An ex-Tara High School teacher charged with cyberstalking last year after sending allegedly threatening emails to former co-workers was engaged in “protected’’ First Amendment speech, his attorney told a judge Wednesday.
“Protected speech is no longer protected when its intent is to harass people,’’ prosecutor Will Morris countered to state District Judge Bonnie Jackson.
Amanda Love, a court-appointed attorney for Ruston Michael Rhorer, is asking Jackson to quash the bill of information charging the 30-year-old Rhorer with cyberstalking.
“What occurred … is not a crime,’’ Love argued.
Jackson deferred ruling on the request until July 21, saying prosecutors have given her only a log of the emails.
“I need to see a little bit more of the content of the emails,’’ the judge told Morris, who said he would give Jackson what she requested.
An affidavit of probable cause says Tara High faculty members received multiple emails from Rhorer in March 2010 quoting “Julius Caesar’’ and “Hamlet’’ as well as quoting from a musical work that refers to Julius Caesar.
The quotes contained “very suggestive threatening rhetoric’’ depicting “violence, death and revenge,’’ the affidavit states.
Love complained Wednesday that the one-count bill of information filed against Rhorer by prosecutors in July does not identify a specific victim.
Morris said there are “40-plus victims.’’
“How can you allege 40-plus people without doing it in counts?’’ Jackson asked.
After some back and forth, Morris said he would amend the bill of information and “possibly add counts.’’ He noted that Rhorer sent three emails.
At that point, Love argued that only two of the individuals who received the emails had an issue with them and decided to pursue charges against Rhorer. She added that the emails contained “vague literary quotes.’’
“It was a complete overreaction by two people who were offended,’’ Love argued.
“That’s a question for the trier of fact,’’ Morris replied.
“I have evidence in my possession to meet my burden of proof’’ regarding Rhorer’s intent, the prosecutor added.
Love, who told Jackson that Rhorer was merely expressing his feelings of “betrayal,’’ said the only evidence of Rhorer’s intent is the “subjective thoughts’’ of the email recipients. She said two of those recipients had an “irrational response.’’
An assistant principal at Tara told a Sheriff’s Office detective that Rhorer worked at Tara during the 2008-09 school year, exhibited odd behavior and had “confrontational issues” with her and other members of the faculty who received the emails, according to the affidavit.
The assistant principal said she and other faculty members were fearful that Rhorer meant them harm, the affidavit says.
When the sheriff’s deputies arrested Rhorer, he said the emails were “friendly emails and meant no harm,” according to the affidavit, and that he was just sharing his “knowledge and love of English.”
After spending the 2008-2009 school year at Tara, Rhorer worked less than a month at Woodlawn High School, resigning Aug. 31, 2009.