Judge: Horn honking not free speech

June 9, 2009 at 5:13 PM
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MONROE, Wash., June 9 (UPI) -- A Washington state appeals judge tossed a woman's claim that honking her horn for prolonged intervals in front of a neighbor's house is protected free speech.

The case began in 2006, when Helen Immelt, 52, received a letter from her neighborhood homeowners association in Monroe saying the chickens she had been keeping in her yard violated covenants and neighbor John Vorderbrueggen confessed to her that he had been the complaining party, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday.

The following morning just before 6 a.m., Immelt parked her car outside of Vorderbrueggen's house and honked her horn continuously for 10 minutes, authorities said. Vorderbrueggen recognized Immelt's car and called 911. He soon received a call from Immelt to make sure he heard the wake-up call.

Authorities said Immelt returned for a second round of honking at 8 a.m.

Police said they confronted and warned Immelt about the honking. She was arrested on a noise violation after driving past Vorderbrueggen's house and honking three times while he was giving a statement to police.

Immelt lost a jury trial on the noise violation and claimed in her appeal that the horn honking was constitutionally protected free speech.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Richard Thorpe disagreed. "Horn honking per se is not free speech," he said in his decision. "Horn honking which is done to annoy or harass others is not speech."

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