Threatening justices, judicial assistants, clerks of court and clerk personnel with death or serious bodily harm will soon come with increased penalties.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a measure (HB 67) into law Monday that makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for threatening those officials of the court and official document handlers, along with their families. They will join a list that already includes law enforcement personnel, State Attorneys, Assistant State Attorneys, firefighters, judges and elected officials and their families.
Second offenses constitute a felony of the third degree, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and five years of probation. The new law also makes harassing all those public officials a misdemeanor of the first degree, which could mean a year in jail, one year of probation and a $1,000 fine.
Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, who filed the bill, said it’s a reaction to the increasingly degraded interaction these personnel are experiencing from the public as they carry out their duties.
“There are limits to what is protected speech and this is what this bill is about,” said Gottlieb, who works as defense lawyer when he’s not in Tallahassee.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office and an Assistant State Attorney brought the problem to his attention, he said. In one instance, someone called court personnel 100 times in eight hours, he said.
“I think we’ve seen a decline in what is acceptable speech behavior,” Gottlieb said, attributing his thinking to a confluence of events.
The increasing perils of being in the public eye have been widely discussed, including a Princeton University announcement last November of a tracking project. Increasing political polarization has been to blame, along with the ripple effects of questions raised about the outcome of the 2020 election and anxiety about the pandemic, according to reports.
The pandemic added to the number of cases languishing unresolved and public discourse began to deteriorate in 2016, Gottlieb said. That’s the same year President Donald Trump was elected.
The bill passed unanimously in both chambers. It goes into effect in October.