LIMA — In an unanimous ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that a civil-stalking protection order cannot restrict future online postings, which reversed a Mercer County Court of Appeals ruling filed in 2018.
Back in 2018, Jeff Rasawehr had been ordered by the Mercy County Court of Appeals to keep outside of a 500-foot radius from his mother, Rebecca Rasawehr, and sister-in-law, Joni Bey, after a he posted online at least 23 times alleging that the women and local government officials were involved in a conspiracy to cover up deaths in the family.
As part of the civil protection stalking order handed down by the court, the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas also included a restriction against Rasawehr that forbade any of his online postings if they should relate to the two women.
“Respondent shall refrain from posting about the deaths of petitioners’ husbands in any manner that expresses, implies, or suggests that the petitioners are culpable in those deaths,” the court order read.
Rasawehr appealed, but The Third District Court of Appeals rejected the legal argument that Rasawehr’s civil protection order fringed upon his first amendment rights to free speech.
Rasawehr appealed again to the Ohio Supreme Court, however, who had a different opinion.
By examining the state’s legal language around civil stalking protection orders and related first amendment rulings, the court reversed the appellate court’s decision. The Ohio Supreme Court found that the Mercy County Court of Appeals regulated Rasawehr’s speech on the basis of its content, and that Rasawehr’s future speech cannot be restricted as there’s no way to know if it will be criminal in nature.
“We fail to see how an order that prohibits Rasawehr from posting anything about appellees either protects them from certain mental distress or prohibits only distress-causing speech,” the court’s opinion reads. “To the contrary, it prohibits everything.”
Before the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on the decision, a number of outside organizations added their positions to each side of the argument. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the 1851 Center for Law, seven Ohio law school professors, Aaron Caplan from the Loyola Law School, Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law School, as well as the Toledo Blade owner’s Block Communications, all filed briefs in support of first-amendment protections related to social media postings.
A single brief from the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network argued that ruling in favor of Rasawehr would create issues for victims of stalking that would limit them “from obtaining the full relief of a civil protection order and impeding a court’s discretion to impose narrowly tailored restraints on a stalker’s conduct.”
Rasawehr is also currently involved in federal civil lawsuit he has filed against Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey, Mercer County and Deputy Chad Fortkamp demanding $1 million for alleged violations of civil rights related to the aforementioned events.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.