Woman jailed for cursing, misses family Christmas

Published 3:03 pm Thursday, December 27, 2012

If you are going to use naughty language, don’t do it in the Berrien County South County Courthouse.

LaRue Ford, who has no criminal record, has spent the last nine days in jail — even missing Christmas with her family — for using profanity in the clerk’s office.

Court documents show Ford, 49, was charged with contempt on Dec. 4 and has been in jail since Dec. 18.

“She said something like, ‘this is some f-ing sh–,’ and she walked out the door,” said Megan Reynolds, an attorney working on the case with several other ACLU members.

Reynolds said she doesn’t believe Ford’s actions meet the test for the charge of contempt of court. The charging document — a bench warrant — only reads Ford “used profanity in the clerk’s office on Dec. 4.”

“Contempt of court arises in the courtroom when it is directly observed by the judge,” said Reynolds. “She was not in court, she did not direct any of her comments toward the judge, so the idea that she would be serving this much time for statements that happened in an administrative office, I think it is extraordinary.”

Reynolds said the ACLU decided to step in after Ford’s family members contacted the organization last week.

The situation began, Reynolds said, when Ford moved this year from Arizona to Indiana to look for a job closer to her family. Ford tried to get an Indiana driver’s license, but was denied because of an unpaid traffic fine of $444 out of Berrien County. When Ford paid the fine last month, Indiana still denied the license.

Reynolds said Ford made several attempts to discover the reason for the problem with the Niles courthouse. Finally, she went to the Niles clerk’s office where it was discovered she needed to pay a $50 reinstatement fee. Ford then cursed in frustration as she left the office, Reynolds said.

When Ford returned to the clerk’s office about 20 minutes later to pay the $50, Reynolds said, a bailiff escorted her to the courtroom of Judge Dennis Wiley. There she was charged with contempt and placed on $5,000 bond.

“The maximum (bond) for criminal contempt penalty is $7,500 … it’s a high bond for the offense,” Reynolds said.

Ford was released the next day after her sister posted 10 percent of the bond.

Ford appeared in court on Dec. 18 and asked Wiley if he could loosen her bond restrictions so she could visit family in Illinois over Christmas, Reynolds said.

Wiley denied Ford’s request and told her she’d have to come up with the full $5,000 bond, Reynolds said.

Ford has been in jail ever since as she and her family haven’t been able to come up with the $5,000.

Ford is scheduled to be back in court Jan. 8, but Reynolds said the ACLU is attempting to get her out before Dec. 31 — otherwise Ford would lose the option of accepting a job she’s been offered in Indiana.

An employee at the clerk’s office in Niles said Thursday Judge Wiley and the clerk supervisor would not be willing to comment on the case.