Judge: Apologize to Estranged Wife on Facebook, or Go to Jail

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Like many frustrated people looking to vent, Cincinnati-based photographer Mark Byron took to Facebook. Byron wrote about his soon-to-be ex-wife, ranting about their pending divorce and child visitation issues, Cincinnati NBC-affiliate WLWT reports. When his wife caught wind of the comments, she took legal action, prompting a Hamilton County judge to offer Byron two options: post an apology on Facebook every day for 30 days, or go to jail for twice as long.

“On one hand, I’ve been told that I can’t say what I want to say on Facebook,” Byron told WLWT, “and now I’m also being told that I must say something they’re telling me to say.”

Last June, a court found Byron guilty for civil domestic violence against his wife, Elizabeth Byron, and granted her a temporary protection order, the Los Angeles Times reports. In November, he posted on Facebook the comments in question: “If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely — all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner and they’ll take him away!”

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Byron said he likened the Facebook post to talking to friends at a bar, just on a larger scale. Even though he said his wife had been blocked from his Facebook page, she soon saw the post and filed a motion stating that it violated the protection order, which prohibited Byron from “causing the plaintiff or the child of the parties to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance or bodily injury.”

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers ordered Byron either a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine, or 30 days of daily Facebook apologies written by Meyers. It seems Byron chose the latter, as the apology is now posted on his Facebook page, which has become a montage of headlines and videos covering the case.

“The idea that a court can say ‘I order you not to post something or to post something’ seems to me to be a First Amendment issue,” said Jack Greiner, a free speech expert and the Cincinnati Enquirer’s attorney. Byron’s lawyer, Elizabeth “Becky” Ford, added, “He did nothing but vent. She didn’t like what he had to say. That’s what this boils down to,” the Enquirer reports.

Byron’s wife and her lawyers have yet to comment publicly. The case is next in court March 19.

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