Public discourse is not for the squeamish. Governing is seldom a decorous endeavor.
In fact, Nevada’s statute on public meetings encourages open debate and colloquy to the point that it absolutely exempts public officials from being sued for defamation over anything said in a public meeting.
Thus we were gratified to see this principle of allowing vigorous and unbridled debate be upheld recently by an Ely municipal judge, who threw out an assault charge filed by one Ely councilwoman against another over admittedly intemperate comments made during a public meeting.
According to an Ely Times account, Councilwoman Jolene Gardner filed assault charges against Councilwoman Pat Robison after she remarked about Gardner, “I will put her down,” and then said, “I will put her under the table.” The remarks were made at a joint meeting of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation trustees and managers.
Under Nevada law assault is: “Unlawfully attempting to use physical force against another person,” or “Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm.”
In asking the Municipal Court Judge Mike Kalleres to dismiss the charge, Assistant District Attorney James Beecher said no “reasonable person” would have felt threatened by those remarks. As for the “put her under the table” statement, Beecher said, “I don’t even know what that means, your honor, and if I don’t know what that means, then I cannot in good conscience come in here and argue to the court that a reasonable person would have been fearful, in that situation, with imminent bodily harm.”
Beecher told the judge his office had reviewed a video of the meeting and found: “No reasonable person would have felt threatened in that situation.”
He said such meetings can get heated but that did not warrant pursuing criminal charges whenever someone is offended.
We thought they only did that on college campuses. — TM