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Transit Law: No right to SHOUT LOUDLY on Trimet


In Oregon, at least on Trimet, speak softly and carry a big message.

The case referred to in the Thursday, April 24, 2008, Oregonian story by John Snell:

TriMet: You shout, you’re out: New rules – It’s not what you say, but how loudly you say it, that will get you booted off the public transit system,”

can be found at the Oregon Judicial Department (OJD) Opinions webpage.

The case is: STATE OF OREGON v. JOHN COBURN RICH (A130233)

Excerpt from Oregonian story:

Small things can have unanticipated consequences.

A lawyer who stood outside court in Corvallis four years ago and screamed obscenities at a policeman is making it possible for TriMet to start throwing people off buses and trains next month — primarily people who are so loud they annoy other passengers.

The reason: The lawyer appealed his conviction on disorderly conduct charges and lost. He argued that shouting obscenities was protected free speech.

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that obscenities may be protected, but hollering isn’t. Not when the sheer volume bothers other people.

John Coburn Rich, a Corvallis defense attorney, was arrested in November 2004 at the Benton County Courthouse after the encounter with the officer. Rich was so loud people working in the courthouse became startled. When he appealed the case, Rich never argued that he wasn’t loud when he shouted at the officer.

Rich, who couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment, lost the case when the court ruled March 19 that it wasn’t what he said, it was the volume he used to say it.

TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said the appeal let TriMet amend its code of conduct, which sets the behavior that will get people removed from buses and trains.

TriMet’s board of directors changed its code of conduct Wednesday. The new rules take effect in 30 days.

“What is really new and different is how the code treats excessive noise,” Hansen said. “The court, for the first time, made a distinction between content and volume.” (read full story)

Here is the Trimet Code of Conduct, which it is not easy to navigate and the pages aren’t dated, so prepare to be frustrated if you are looking for something specific or recently changed. (They clearly need some law librarian and rider feedback and especially some website usability advice 🙂

And this summary of the case is from OJD Media Release, Court of Appeals, March 19th, 2008:

“Defendant was charged with disorderly conduct for intentionally causing “public
inconvenience, annoyance or alarm” by making “unreasonable noise,” ORS 166.025(1)(b), during an argument with a police officer in the Benton County courthouse. Defendant argues that his conviction violated the free expression guarantee of Article 1, section 8, of the Oregon Constitution.

Held: ORS 166.025(1)(b) restrains speech based on its volume, duration, location, and the like. Because it is a content-neutral statute that focuses on forbidden effects without referring to expression at all, a conviction based on a violation of ORS 166.025(1)(b) does not violate Article I, section 8, unless it is unconstitutionally applied. Because the court found that the statute was applied against defendant because of noncommunicative elements of his speech, his conviction did not violate Article I, section 8. Affirmed.”

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