Talk About A Misdemeanor: The City Law Against Annoying Behavior

Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish talks to Audie Cornish about an outdated city code that states, "No person shall willfully annoy another person."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

No one likes annoying people. Remember Annoying Man, Jon Lovitz, "Saturday Night Live?" He made it legendary. Here is talking to Dennis Miller.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

JON LOVITZ: Look, look. I made you some brownies. Would you like one?

DENNIS MILLER: No. No, thank you.

LOVITZ: That's too bad. They're real good.

MILLER: Could you eat with your mouth closed, man? Stop. You're making me sick. Stop it, Annoying Man.

LOVITZ: Oh, I'm sorry. Here, let me make it up to you and cut your hair.

MILLER: No. My hair is...

CORNISH: If Mr. Annoying Man lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he could have been in big trouble. There's a law on the books that says no person shall willfully annoy another person. But now, city attorney Catherine Mish says it's time to get rid of the regulation. She joins us now.

And, Catherine Mish, why and when was this law first passed?

CATHERINE MISH: Well, it's been on the books for quite some time. It's difficult to tell exactly how old it is but it dates back to at least 1976.

CORNISH: Oh. So I thought you're going to say, it dates back to the 19-teens. This is actually fairly recent.

(LAUGHTER)

MISH: I think it probably is that old, but we can't tell exactly how old it is.

CORNISH: Can you tell us if you know if this law was ever enforced and what the penalties are?

MISH: Well, I know it hasn't been enforced for at least the last 30 years. The penalty would be up to the sentencing judge. He could or she could impose a sentence of up to 90 days in jail.

CORNISH: OK. So what was the motivation? Is there any sense of kind of how it came to be?

MISH: I suspect that it relates to a type of stalking conduct or offense, and they were trying to describe stalking before we had that word.

CORNISH: Oh, OK. So actually, fairly serious origins here.

MISH: It's in the same section of the code where we find assault and batteries, recklessly endangering the life, health and safety of a person. So I think it relates to that kind of a physical conduct.

CORNISH: Did it surprise you when you came across this bill?

MISH: No. It's been in the code for a long time. It's the type of language we also see in the codes of surrounding cities, so it wasn't surprising to find it. But I put it in the category of ordinances that should be considered for repeal.

CORNISH: What are some of the others you're recommending that should go?

MISH: Well, there was one that was repealed last August, which made it a crime if a person fails to return the library materials. It could be an offense for which you could go to jail.

CORNISH: Wow. And how severe the penalty?

MISH: The penalty was something like seven to 10 days in jail.

CORNISH: All right. So last question, how annoying are you going to be to get rid of this law?

MISH: Well, the city commission is set to vote on this question on Tuesday. And I don't expect any objections. They voted on it last week in terms of publishing it and setting a date to - for the final vote, and they had no objections at that time.

CORNISH: No one made a case? No one said, actually, I know someone who I'd like to use this on?

MISH: They had great fun with this but, no, they didn't object.

CORNISH: That's Grand Rapids city attorney Catherine Mish talking about getting rid of a city code that makes it illegal to willfully annoy another person. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MISH: Thank you.

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