Anne King didn’t plan on becoming a champion of the First Amendment. She was just a mother fed up with her ex-husband.
Her bizarre, chilling and ultimately rewarding tale started with a seemingly benign Facebook post on January 15, 2015: “That moment when everyone in your house has the flu and you ask your kid’s dad to get them (not me) more Motrin and Tylenol and he refuses.”
King’s ex-husband happens to be a Washington County deputy. And because of that post, King was arrested, charged with a crime that didn’t exist, handed down by a magistrate judge who didn’t have a law degree.
“The whole thing was so outrageous,” said Cynthia Counts, one of King’s lawyers. “I couldn’t believe it at first.”
Last week, after nearly five years, King finally received justice in the form of a $100,000 settlement and an apology.
“There were plenty of times I thought to myself I should just end this,” said King, one of about 1,500 people who calls Tennille, located in Middle Georgia, home. “But I wasn’t going to back down and let them win.”
‘I was terrified’
Anne King said she took down the post after her ex-husband, Corey King, complained about it, knowing he wouldn’t hesitate to use his position in law enforcement to intimidate or harass her.
But Corey King, who, according to court documents felt “disrespected,” wasn’t satisfied.
He enlisted the help of a colleague and friend, Capt. Trey Burgamy, who swore an affidavit for Anne King’s arrest. Five days after the Facebook post, Anne King found herself standing in front of Magistrate Judge Ralph Todd.
“I was terrified,” Anne King said. “I couldn’t believe I could be going to jail for something I said.”
Todd told her she had defamed her ex-husband’s character. He ordered her not to contact her husband for any reason and even threatened to ban her from Facebook. With that, she was escorted out of the courtroom by a deputy and taken to jail, where she spent the next three hours before posting $1,000 bond on a charge of criminal defamation.
A Totalitarian State?
Veteran Athens attorney Ed Tolley called the incident “a blatant abuse of power.”
“When I first heard about it, I think my ears turned red,” the former chairman of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission said. “I was so agitated because I knew it was not a crime.”
It hadn’t been since 1982, when criminal defamation was ruled unconstitutional. Prior to that, it had been used in only one or two cases, Tolley said.
Todd would later say he was unaware the law was off the books.
“If people can be arrested for a criticism of an ex-husband on social media, then you have what amounts to a totalitarian state,” said Counts, who specializes in First Amendment cases.
Anne King said, at first, she couldn’t find legal representation in Washington County.
“No one would touch it,” she said. “It’s such a good ‘ol boy system down here.”
At the criminal hearing, the solicitor, Robert Wynn, attempted to justify the charges, telling the court, “just because something is legal does not make it right.” State Court Judge John Dana wasn’t buying it and Wynn eventually agreed to drop the charges. “I don’t even know why we’re here,” Dana said, according to court documents.
But Anne King said she knew a message had to be sent and pursued a civil lawsuit against Washington County, the sheriff’s office, Burgamy and her ex-husband. She would hear from several other Tennille residents sharing similar tales of injustice.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state’s judicial watchdog, meanwhile, launched their own investigation into Judge Todd. Tolley confirmed there were other complaints.
“But this one was enough,” he said.
Todd eventually resigned.
In their depositions, Corey King and Burgamy said it was the judge’s decision, not theirs, to arrest Anne King. They kept their jobs with the sheriff’s department.
“I didn’t have jurisdiction over (Corey King) and his friend, but they knew better,” Tolley said.
Counts considers Anne King a First Amendment hero.
“She could’ve settled this earlier but she wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen again,” Counts said. “This kind of abuse of power can’t be tolerated.”
Anne King has remained in Tennille, even though she still feels as if she’s being watched by law enforcement.
“I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, ‘If I had the money, I’d move away from here,’ ” she said.
Now, “I’m going to stay,” she said. “Maybe they should leave town.”
The apology, she said, means more to her than the money.
It read, “We apologize for the pain caused and time wasted including Ms. King being charged and arrested with respect to what was really a personal dispute that should have ended without the involvement of the courts.”
It’s posted on her Facebook page.
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