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NOLA Lawyer Charged With Cyberstalking in Noise Ordinance Dispute

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

This is a wee bit ridiculous.

New Orleans Attorney Stuart Smith, a notable environmental lawyer, apparently hates noise, fun, and cabaret shows. Robert Watters owns Rick's Cabaret and opposes strict noise ordinances in the French Quarter. On its own, this dispute is unremarkable.

Except Smith allegedly sent a text message to Watters and is now being charged with cyberstalking.

What Was the Message?

"I have had your troubled history investigated," Smith wrote Watters on Feb. 16, reports The Times-Picayune. "You have 24 hours to resign from fqmd or it will all be released. If you resign and keep your mouth shut it will not. I am sure your stockholders and partners would like this approach."

Okay, that wasn't very nice, nor was the email he sent to another French Quarter Management District member, warning her that she would not be "electable as a dog catcher" if she similarly backed a compromise noise ordinance proposal.

But Cyberstalking?

Yeah, this is a hell of a stretch. Check out Louisiana's statute, §40.3(B):

Cyberstalking is action of any person to accomplish any of the following:

(1) Use in electronic mail or electronic communication of any words or language threatening to inflict bodily harm to any person [...] or physical injury to the property of any person, or for the purpose of extorting money or other things of value from any person.

That doesn't seem to fit, does it? There's no threat of injury to person or property, and unless a spot on the FQMD counts as a "thing[] of value," this isn't it. Even then, does forcing someone to quit count as "extorting ... from"?

(2) Electronically mail or electronically communicate to another repeatedly, whether or not conversation ensues, for the purpose of threatening, terrifying, or harassing any person.

One time text does not fit.

(3) Electronically [...] communicate to another and to knowingly make any false statement concerning death, injury, illness, disfigurement, indecent conduct, or criminal conduct of the person electronically mailed [...] with the intent to threaten, terrify, or harass.

Well, a vague statement about "your troubled history" might fit, but only if it was "knowingly ... false." From Watters' statements to the local papers, he seems to have no idea what that history might entail -- might be hard to prove falsity in that case.

(4) Knowingly permit an electronic communication device under the person's control to be used for the taking of an action in Paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of this Subsection.

The "somebody hacked my phone" defense hasn't been brought up yet, so N/A.

The bad news is, under §40.3(C), if Smith is convicted, his phone will be seized and auctioned. (Oh no!)

It Ain't Just a Criminal Case

More worrisome for Smith might be Watters' reporting to other agencies, namely the state bar. According to the Times-Picayune, the state bar has already assigned an attorney to investigate the matter.

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