Judge Boots UVM Telephone Call Case | Off Message

Judge Boots UVM Telephone Call Case


Wesley Richter, left, at Vermont Superior Court in Burlington in October - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Wesley Richter, left, at Vermont Superior Court in Burlington in October
There is no probable cause to bring disorderly conduct charges against University of Vermont student Wesley Richter for allegedly racist and threatening remarks he was overheard making in a telephone call, Vermont Superior Court Judge David Fenster has ruled.

The case roiled UVM last fall and triggered a debate about free speech rights. Richter, through his attorney, Ben Luna, denied saying anything racist or threatening.

Luna issued a statement Tuesday saying the judge's decision was a win for his client and the Constitution. "This is a significant victory for free speech and the First Amendment," Luna said.

He had filed a motion to dismiss the charges and argued that the case was predicated on unreliable hearsay.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George confirmed the judge's ruling Tuesday but would not immediately comment further. Fenster's decision is not public record, she said.

The decision means that prosecutors must drop the case against Richter, who was a part-time student when he talked on his cell phone October 1 in a UVM library.

A fellow student overheard his conversation and reported to UVM administrators that Richter made threatening comments directed at African Americans.

UVM issued a campus-wide email about an apparent threat and campus police investigated. Richter was cited for disorderly conduct but was not formally charged after his lawyer, Luna, argued that there was never a threat, and that Richter was having a harmless telephone call with his mother.

Tuesday, Luna reiterated his opinion that the UVM police department and Chittenden county prosecutors overextended their constitutional powers in the case.

"The court's ruling reinforces my opinion that this case should never have been brought," Luna's statement read.

Correction, January 3: An earlier version of this story misstated which police agencies Ben Luna criticized.