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Sirens & Gavels

Jury deadlocked in judge threat trial

A jury deadlocked today leading to a mistrial for a man facing the rare charge of intimidation of a judge.

Timothy A. Hays, 50, had faced between 15 and 20 months in prison after he was charged with threatening Municipal Court Judge Michelle Szambelan on Sept. 7.

The trial before Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor included the unusual twist of having at two judges and a court commissioner testify as witnesses.

Hays admitted to approaching the door of Szambelan’s chambers, knocking on the door and then getting into the judge’s face about a ruling she made in April 2011 during a case where she sentenced Hays to 10 days in jail for obstructing an officer.

“I’m going to going to cut you down,” he told Szambelan. She and fellow Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan alerted court security. Officers then arrested Hays, who was drunk at the time.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Compton  argued to the jury that Hays was simply exercising his right as a citizen to verbally dissent to Szambelan’s previous ruling.

“Mr. Hays went to a public building during business hours,” Compton said. Szambelan “is an elected official. She is not some sort of royalty. Like any public official, you are going to be subject to criticism.”

Compton said Hays did not use the “nice legal language” to say he objected to her previous ruling.

“The language itself is pretty ambiguous,” Compton said of the “cut you down” comment. “It might not have been the most polite way to do this. Who are we to say when you complain that you can’t do it in person?”

But Deputy Prosecutor Deric Martin argued that Hays comment had “nothing to do about dissent. This is about a threat. This is past protected speech.”

Martin challenged Compton’s analogy of comparing Hays’ comment to fans yelling obscenities at referees at a sporting event.

“The example we had was not that. It was more akin to going to the referee’s locker room after the game and saying, ‘You ruined my life,’” Martin said. Hays “went beyond dissent … and entered the world of illegal threat.”

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Thomas Clouse
Thomas Clouse joined The Spokesman-Review in 1999. He currently is an investigative reporter for the City Desk and covers federal, state and local courts.

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