An independent journalist and local newspaper editor from central Ohio was laughed out of a Greene County courtroom recently after suggesting that talking to people on a public sidewalk constitutes free speech. Retired Judge Catherine (Kathryn) Barber, who was filling in for Xenia Municipal Judge Michael Murray, literally laughed at Virgil Vaduva from the Greene County Herald when he attempted to defend his First Amendment right to talk to people in public. The outrageous incident occurred after Vaduva decided to stand out in front of the Xenia City Hall to raise public awareness about the unconstitutionality of the city’s anti-panhandling law, which prohibits people from asking other people for help within 20 feet of public sidewalks or local businesses.

Vaduva recorded his various encounters with local residents, many of whom he persuaded that anti-panhandling laws are unconstitutional, resulting in some of them even making donations to a local charity as a result. Perhaps not surprisingly, the city was none too pleased with Vaduva’s exercise in free speech — and in an ironic twist decided to falsely prosecute him for panhandling, based on the very law against which he was protesting! In a rational society, this blatant form of civil persecution by the state would have been immediately identified as such and thrown out as a false charge. But Vaduva was ordered to appear in court to defend his fourth degree misdemeanor charge, and it was in the courtroom where things got really interesting. CONTINUE