Courthouse gadfly wins 7-year
— A former sheriff has been ordered
to pay $50,001 for violating the
free-speech rights of a courthouse
gadfly in 1999.
On March 28,
a jury in U.S. District Court
in Brattleboro returned the verdict
against R.J. Elrick, former Rutland
County sheriff. Elrick must pay
$50,000 in compensatory damages
and $1 in punitive damages to
Scott Huminski, 46, formerly of
Bennington and now of North Carolina.
As sheriff, Elrick
ordered Huminski to leave the
Rutland courthouse grounds after
Huminski parked there and posted
a sign on his truck critical of
own attorney told the jury that
they could only award punitive
damages if Elrick was found to
have acted with malice,"
Huminski said in an e-mail. "The
jury did find that malice."
Robert Corn-Revere, confirmed
the outcome of the case yesterday.
Messages left at Elrick's office
and at the office and home of
his lawyer, Pietro Lynn, were
not immediately returned. Elrick
is now executive director of the
Vermont Criminal Justice Training
Council, which operates the state
jury) determined that punitive
damages were justified because
the deprivation of his First Amendment
rights had been wanton, meaning
reckless and with callous disregard"
of Huminski's rights, said Corn-Revere,
a Washington lawyer who specializes
in First Amendment cases.
Of the $1 award
for punitive damages, he said,
"The jury decided to temper
justice with mercy when it came
to actually charging the sheriff
with additional damages."
He said attorneys fees in the
case against Elrick were yet to
The case was
triggered by an incident in 1999,
when Huminski was angry about
the outcome of a case he had had
in the Vermont District Court
in Bennington in which Judge Nancy
later assigned to Rutland. Huminski,
who for a time variously described
himself as a "court reporter"
and "defender of justice,"
went to the Rutland courthouse
while Corsones was presiding there,
parked in the parking lot and
put a sign on the side of his
truck that read "Judge Corsones:
Butcher of the Constitution."
later said they ordered Huminski
away from the courthouse grounds,
and barred him from all courthouses
in Vermont, because they feared
he might turn violent, which he
suit against the judges, Rutland
court manager Karen Predom, Elrick
and the Rutland County Sheriff's
Department. The state attorney
general's office settled Predom's
portion of the case with Huminski
last year, agreeing to pay $200,000
in damages and legal fees.
The 2nd U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals said
Corsones and Judge Patricia Zimmerman,
who were both involved in the
no-trespass orders against Huminski,
violated his First Amendment rights.
But it ruled the judges were not
liable for damages.
the jury's task was to determine
the damages to assess against
Elrick. Still to be decided by
Judge J. Garvan Murtha is whether
to issue the court order sought
by Huminski and Corn-Revere that
would bar the sheriff's department
from enforcing any similar no-trespass
order against Huminski in the
While the First
Amendment case was pending, Huminski
was a prolific writer of e-mails
and letters accusing Vermont officials
including Attorney General William
Sorrell and former Gov. Howard
Dean of corruption.
of Elrick in an e-mail yesterday,
"So now we have a malicious
civil rights violator training
every single police officer in
he hoped the former sheriff had
learned something about the First
Amendment. "Hopefully this
decision will help him get better
training on compliance with the
Constitution. ... I think he's
gotten an advance tutorial at
congratulations to you on behalf