When an ex-Tara High School teacher emailed passages from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and “Hamlet” to former co-workers last year, he omitted one of the Bard’s best-known quotations:
The opening line of Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet — “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
Which begs this question: Did Ruston Michael Rhorer’s actions constitute cyberstalking, as East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s officials and prosecutors alleged, or did they not?
State District Judge Bonnie Jackson decided last month they did not, and she dismissed the charge against Rhorer.
In a March 19, 2010, email, Rhorer sent this passage from “Julius Caesar”:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The Valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to be most strange that men should fear; Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.”
The following day, he emailed co-workers this text from “Hamlet”:
“O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables! Meet it is I set it down. That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in … .”
(That email left out the final word of the passage: Denmark.)
Louisiana law defines cyberstalking as using in electronic mail or electronic communication “any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person … .”
Cyberstalking also is defined in the statute as electronically mailing or electronically communicating “to another repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of threatening, terrifying, or harassing any person.”
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 of probable cause.
The assistant principal said she and other faculty members were fearful that Rhorer meant them harm, the affidavit stated.
When 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.”
Rhorer’s court-appointed attorney, Amanda Love, argued at a June hearing that Rhorer was engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment.
Prosecutor Will Morris countered that protected speech “is no longer protected when its intent is to harass people.”
Jackson, who said she reviewed the emails, concluded July 21 that Rhorer’s missives did not rise to the level of cyberstalking.
“They do not seem to fit,” she said in her ruling. “They are not overtly threatening.”
The judge, though, laid down the law and told Rhorer her decision was not an invitation for him to continue sending emails to his former colleagues.
“You now know … that the recipients of your emails do not want any communication from you in any form,” she said.
Jackson said Rhorer could be arrested again for cyberstalking if he sends additional emails to his former co-workers.
If such an arrest occurs, she said, the facts of Rhorer’s 2010 arrest could then become “relevant.”
Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.