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NJ Woman's Facebook Rants About Judges Lead To Jail Term

For weeks, Monica Ciardi vented on Facebook about her ex-husband, their bitter child custody dispute, and the Morris County, N.J., judges overseeing it, calling the jurists liars and demanding their resignations in posts that sometimes numbered dozens a day, News From The States reports. She knew her rants might rankle, so she posted about that too, citing a federal court ruling protecting social media posts as free speech. “ZERO RETALIATION IS PERMITTED AGAINST ME FOR EXERCISING MY RIGHTS. Take notice,” she wrote on Dec. 15. A week later, police swarmed her home and took her to jail in handcuffs after Morris County prosecutors decided at least one post about the judges amounted to terroristic threats, harassment, and retaliation against a public official. “This is my personal Facebook page with 50 people on it,” Ciardi said. “They came to my page and then turned around and said I harassed them. That’s like if I know you don’t like me, I go to your house, I stand on your front porch, I overhear you saying bad things about me, and then I call the cops and say, ‘She’s harassing me. I know I’m on her porch, but you should just hear what she said.'”

Free speech advocates are watching the case, which her attorney characterizes as “the government punishing and jailing a woman for simply speaking her mind.” “There’s really nothing criminal about what she did. Is it annoying? Yes. Is it a little over the top? Yes. But is it criminal? Absolutely not,” said public defender Mackenzie Shearer, who has asked a judge to dismiss the case. “Basically, she’s journaling online.” Attorney Bruce Rosen, who specializes in First Amendment law, said the case “has all the earmarks of a First Amendment violation.” “Context matters. If you put this in context with the rest of her posts, she’s an angry mother,” Rosen said. “It seems to me that someone’s being extra-protective.” The post that piqued authorities enough to file charges read: “Judge Bogaard and Judge DeMarzo: If you don’t do what I want then you don’t get to see your kids. Hmm.” Shearer told the New Jersey Monitor that Ciardi was parroting the family court judges’ own words and just failed to use proper punctuation. “She doesn’t even know if these judges have kids. She’s saying what they told her,” Shearer said. “She got arrested because she forgot quotation marks.” Superior Court Judge Mark Ali ordered her detained, and she spent 35 days in jail. On Friday, Ali ordered her released, citing a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that raised the bar for terroristic threat charges.


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