Wisconsin mother says profanity toward son is free speech

Posted at 10:01 AM, Sep 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-22 16:34:50-04

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court is deciding whether a mother's profane tirade against her 14-year-old son for burning popcorn amounted to free speech.

Ginger Breitzman, 44, argued this week that her language wasn't inciting violence or a true threat and therefore is protected speech, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Breitzman was charged with disorderly conduct following a 2012 incident where she screamed at her son while he was talking to a friend on the phone. Her son later called the police.

A Milwaukee County jury convicted Breitzman. She was sentenced to six months in jail.

Breitzman appealed, saying her attorney was ineffective for not arguing the charge violated her free speech. The state argued that her lawyer isn't obligated to put forth such a far-fetched theory.

Justice Michael Gableman questioned if the state should be arbitrating disorderly conduct in disputes that occur in private homes.

Previous cases have found that private conduct can be disorderly if there's a spillover effect, said Assistant Attorney General Donald Latorraca. Breitzman's son confided in a friend and a school official about his mother's behavior.

Justice Ann Bradley raised concerns that the court's decision could affect domestic violence cases if the court suggests that individuals can do whatever they want in their own home.

Latorraca said the court shouldn't focus on free speech, but on whether Breitzman's attorney was ineffective by not raising the First Amendment defense at trial.

The court is expected to take a few weeks before reaching a decision.

Breitzman was also charged with child abuse that intentionally caused harm and child neglect.