Tag Archives: Ewok

On the First Amendment and Ewoks

11 Jun

On Friday, our own Chris Charvella had to spend more time not being productive, sitting in court and paying a lawyer, to defend himself against one of the stupidest judicial travesties I’ve seen in recent memory.

The whole thing started when Charvella, a WNYMedia.net writer, business owner, and Genesee County Democratic Committeeman, wrote about Genesee County Legislator and then-Senator Mike Ranzenhofer staffer Jerome Grasso. It started when Grasso – without authorization from the owner – placed a Ranzenhofer sign on a business lawn.  Charvella wasn’t happy, and he jokingly referred to Jerome Grasso as “Sharome Glasshole”.

After that blog post, Charvella soon found a Ranzenhofer sign on his own lawn, bearing an added message, “Courtesy of Sharome Glasshole”.  Now, I don’t know about you, but if I thought that a political opponent who is also a former sheriff’s deputy (out on “disability”), and whom I knew to have been accused of brutalizing truly disabled inmates who had to urinate, I’d be quite startled indeed if that person escalated an online matter into real-life trespassing.

So, after pulling the unwanted sign, Charvella called Grasso and thanked him for reading his blog.  The blog post containing the now-iconic rape Ewok came later, and Grasso couldn’t have seen it when he got the “thank you” call.  Soon, however, admitted liar Jerome Grasso “swore” out a criminal complaint against Charvella:

Grasso said that he felt Charvella had gone too far with some of his postings, but when Jay got a call from his wife, who said she felt fearful after a phone call from Charvella, he couldn’t just laugh it off.

“I don’t view it as a joke once you call my wife and upset my wife,” Grasso said. “When you call my house and threaten my wife, that’s going too far in local politics.”

The complaint against Charvella reads:

On the aforementioned date, time and place, said defendant did contact the residence of Jerome J. Grasso by leaving a message. The message stated “Hey, Jerome, it’s Chris Charvella, thanks for reading my blog.”

The complaint is signed by Jay Grasso.

…police arrested Charvella for harassment in the second degree.  The statute reads as follows:

A person is guilty of Harassment in the Second Degree when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person:

1. He or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same; or
2. He or she follows a person in or about a public place or places; or
3. He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

Usually, people get arrested for this crime when they punch people in the face or are stalking someone. Charvella is being prosecuted for calling Grasso and saying “thank you for reading my blog” with “no legitimate purpose”. But as we see above, Grasso‘s apparent placement of a Ranzenhofer sign on Charvella’s real property was the impetus for the phone call.  Grasso pretends to have been afraid, but Charvella only made a “thank you” phone call – he never trespassed on Grasso’s property. 

This ridiculous case has been making its way through the system and has cost Charvella about $7,000 in legal fees so far. (Look for a fundraiser to help Charvella soon).  The attorneys argued a motion yesterday brought by Charvella’s attorney to dismiss the case.

Cianfrini argued that the message had no legitimate purpose and taken within the context of comments made by Charvella on The Batavian and on his own blog, constitutes an attempt to threaten and intimidate Grasso.

“What Mr. Charvella did was serious,” Cianfrini said. “It wasn’t a light moment. He wasn’t trying to be funny. It was serious and if you look at the whole body of conduct, it is serious.”

In order for the case to be considered serious, Fussell argued, the conduct of Charvella would have to be seen by a reasonable person as intimidating. Just because the alleged victim, he argued, felt alarmed doesn’t mean the conduct is in fact harassing.

“Mr. Grasso is either an exceptionally sensitive person who is easily frightened, or he is acting to shut out Mr. Charvella from the political process,” Fussell said.

A key fact disputed during the hearing was the timing of the phone message in relation to a post Charvella did with a picture of an Ewok with the caption, “Prepare your anus.”

Cianfrini said the posting of the picture followed by the phone message was clear evidence that Charvella intended to intimidate Grasso.

Fussell countered that the Ewok picture was posted after the phone call, so Grasso could not have seen the picture before getting the phone message.

To which Cianfrini replied that if that’s the case, Charvella’s conduct potentially constituted a threat.

Fussell quickly replied that Charvella hadn’t been charged with such a crime.

“If those are the facts that come out at trial, the people reserve the right to file that charge,” Cianfrini said. “He’s on notice.”

I admittedly don’t practice criminal law, but scanning the New York State Penal Law, I don’t see a crime called “threat”, or anything similar under which Charvella might be charged.  I have no idea what the DA is talking about here. But two argument points were important on Friday. Firstly, the issue of the rape Ewok, contained in the quote above.

The DA is insinuating that Charvella’s blog post, posted after the (spoliated) phone message, constitutes a threat?

I’d appreciate it if Ms. Cianfrini could explain to me (or a jury) how Mr. Charvella might go about procuring an Ewok who might do something to Mr. Grasso’s anus? Because, if Charvella had intended to threaten someone (he didn’t, and state of mind is an element that must be proven), he threatened to retain the services of a fictional alien character from a film released in 1983 who looks somewhat sinister.

What seems exquisitely more outrageous to me, and is omitted from all discussion of this case, is the fact that apparently Grasso came onto Charvella’s property without permission, invitation, or legitimate purpose and placed litter on Charvella’s lawn, with a handwritten message indicating that he had been there. That was done with an intention to harass or intimidate.

What the DA is attempting to do here is criminalize sarcasm. Did Charvella have a legitimate excuse to call and leave a message on Grasso‘s phone? Absolutely – Grasso had already apparently harassed him by coming onto his property, so Charvella thanked him for reading what he had wrote about him. The leaving of the sign was the reason – the justification for the phone call.  That call didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Secondly, on the issue of the first amendment:

Cianfrini made the point that Grasso wasn’t acting in his capacity as a sitting legislator, so the First Amendment didn’t apply to the case.

The events around the case were entirely personal, Cianfrini argued, and not about politics or anything Grasso did as a government official.

“That’s what the First Amendment deals with, the government not the placement of a political sign or personal conflicts,” Cianfrini said.

And even if it is a political issue, Cianfrini said, the case isn’t about the content of any postings or messages. It’s about Charvella’s conduct, which Cianfrini argued, was clearly intended to intimidate and harass Grasso, causing him to feel alarmed.


Ms. Cianfrini misapprehends the First Amendment. She is the government. That is, she is the representative of the same government that had arrested – and is prosecuting – Mr. Charvella for saying “thank you”. It is prosecuting him for the palpably reasonable and justified “thank you” speech left on a conveniently absent voice mail. This is a textbook First Amendment issue.

Does the Genesee County DA’s office live in some parallel universe where government prosecution of speech isn’t a constitutional issue and Ewoks exist and could potentially do something to someone’s anus?

This is, in my opinion, a massive waste of government resources and time, and quite possible a malicious prosecution with huge first amendment implications. That the Genesee County DA’s office is busy violating Charvella’s First Amendment right to engage in political speech, prosecuting a crime that wasn’t committed under any reasonable analysis, and engaging in a discussion of whether a picture of an Ewok is a threat, this has degenerated into a farcical sham. A DA’s job isn’t to engage in politically-motivated revenge prosecutions, but to do justice.  At this point, that would entail Jerome Grasso and the DA dropping these laughable charges.

When Hypersensitive Republican Trolls Call the Cops

15 Nov

On October 27th, Genesee County Democratic Committeeman Chris Charvella posted this to his “Rural Democrats” blog:

A certain legislator from Genesee County, let’s pretend his name is Sharome Glasshole, is also the Genesee County republican ‘sign guy.’  Yesterday when I got to work, there was a Mike Ranzenhofer sign in the lawn in front of the flower shop next door to my place of business.  Most people don’t know that the company I work for owns the flower shop property as well and the only person in the company who would authorize a political sign on either property would be…you guessed it, me.

Now, there’s no way to be sure who put the sign there, but we can certainly make an educated guess or two.

So, to the Genesee County ‘sign guy’ and the Ranzenhofer campaign:  The next time I see an unauthorized sign go up in front of a commercial property, I’m going to harvest the damn thing, march straight down to republican headquarters and cram it up the first ass I see.

Republican Genesee County Legislator, Ranzenhofer hack, and sock-puppeted internet troll Jerome Grasso is the “sign guy” to whom Charvella refers in that post as “Sharome Glasshole”.

A few days later, “Glasshole” paid an uninvited visit to Charvella’s own home:

I had to stop by my house this afternoon to conduct a little personal business.  When I pulled up I saw a Mike Ranzenhofer sign on my lawn; obviously I hadn’t ordered one up from the Genesee County Republican Committee.  So I chuckled and walked over to pull it.  As I got closer I noticed that someone had written a personal message on it.

Written in blue pen across the top right-hand side of the sign was this: ‘Courtesy of Sharome Glasshole.’

The post goes on to accuse Grasso of being a deadbeat, a hack, a dirty cop, and a troll with too much time on his dirty hands.  It ends with a picture of the creepy-looking Rape Ewok bearing the legend “prepare your anus”, in reference to what Charvella had he’d do with any Ranzenhofer signs he’d find.

On election day, Charvella left a voice mail for Grasso:

‘Hello Jerome.  Chris Charvella calling.  It’s nice to know you read my blog.  Have a nice day.’

This past weekend, Grasso had Charvella arrested for “aggravated harassment” The Batavian has the story here.

From the jury instruction on that charge:

a person is guilty of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury.

Maybe Grasso shouldn’t have placed lawn signs for Senate failure Mike Ranzenhofer without permission, and maybe Grasso shouldn’t have (allegedly) trespassed on Charvella’s property to send him a message.  Did Grasso really think that Charvella would ram a Ranzenhofer sign up his ass, or retain the services of the rape Ewok to do it for him? I’m just saying.