NILES – If you're ever at the Berrien County Courthouse in Niles, you may want to watch your language. One woman's cursing landed her in jail for contempt of court -- even though she wasn't in a courtroom.
LaRue Ford, 49, of northwest Indiana has a master’s degree and no criminal record. She was in the county clerk’s office inside the courthouse trying to get some traffic fees cleared up. It was a frustrating process...during which she muttered a few profanities. Now she's sitting in jail.
"This was basically what happens when you try to fix your life out so you’re not a burden to society," said John Targowski, Ford's attorney, who's working with the ACLU on this case.
Ford was trying to get her Indiana driver's license so she could a job, but first she needed to take care of an unpaid Michigan traffic fine. She paid all $444 of it, but there was a $50 reinstatement fee that the Berrien County Clerk's Office in Niles overlooked and that led to a lot of confusion.
"She didn't really swear at anybody in particular, but as she was leaving she said 'f*** this f***ing s***,'" said Targowski.
Those words were heard in the clerk's office. Someone told Judge Dennis Wiley and he held her in contempt. This all happened back on December 4. She spent one night in jail, but had to go back on the 18th. That's when her bond was set to $5,000. Ford has been in jail since then.
"She's demure, she's positive, but she's realizing that this is dragging on for quite a long time and she's being deprived of liberty," said Targowski.
Ford's defense team says Wiley had no right to put Ford in jail in the first place since the judge didn't actually witness her curse.
"Normally criminal contempt is a crime you know you can't swear and use foul language in front of a judge in a courtroom, the judge has the power to hold you in contempt, that's lawful, but that has to happen in the judge's presence, the judge has to see what happened here wasn't those set of facts," Targowski said.
Ford's defense team will try to get charges of contempt dismissed tomorrow. They'll also ask for her immediate release. If that doesn't happen, the criminal contempt hearing will be held January 8th. Officials at the Berrien County Courthouse refused to comment on the case because it's ongoing.