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Masters v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

October 27, 2017

JOHNATHAN MASTERS APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

         ON DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM BRECKINRIDGE CIRCUIT COURT . HONORABLE BRUCE T. BUTLER, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-XX-00003

          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: John Gerhart Landon Frankfort, Kentucky Ronald Pence Rineyville, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy G. Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky James Havey Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BEFORE: COMBS, D. LAMBERT, AND NICKELL, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          LAMBERT, D., JUDGE

         Johnathan Masters challenges the constitutionality of Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 161.190, a Kentucky statute addressing teacher abuse. The Breckinridge District Court held the statute constitutional, and the Breckinridge Circuit Court affirmed. This Court granted discretionary review and now affirms.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 2014, Masters got into a verbal disagreement with Keith Haynes, the principal of Clover Independent Schools. The disagreement took place in the foyer of the school building after Haynes reneged on a deal to help Masters, a graduate school student, complete a school project.

         During the disagreement, Haynes asked Masters to leave the school premises multiple times. Masters responded by calling Haynes a profane name and proposing that the two resolve their differences by fighting outside. Specifically, Masters invited Haynes to meet him outside so he could "kick [Haynes'] ass." Masters left after Haynes declined the invitation.

         Once Masters was off campus, Haynes placed the school in a temporary lock down. Haynes also contacted the Breckinridge County Attorney's office to have a criminal complaint issued. Masters was charged with violating KRS 161.190, a misdemeanor offense, two days later. The full text of the statute reads as follows:

Whenever a teacher, classified employee, or school administrator is functioning in his capacity as an employee of a board of education of a public school system, it shall be unlawful for any person to direct speech or conduct toward the teacher, classified employee, or school administrator when such person knows or should know that the speech or conduct will disrupt or interfere with normal school activities or will nullify or undermine the good order and discipline of the school.

KRS 161.190.

         In the subsequent criminal proceedings, Masters filed a motion challenging the constitutionality of KRS 161.190.[1] The statute, from Masters' perspective, punished more behavior than necessary, did not define some of its key terms, and chilled otherwise protected speech. The district court denied the motion. A jury ultimately found Masters guilty of the offense, and he was fined $500.

         Following his conviction and sentence, Masters appealed the case to the circuit court. He once again argued that KRS 161.190 was unconstitutional. The circuit court disagreed and explained in a thorough opinion and order that the statute was neither overbroad nor vague. The circuit court also ruled that the words Masters used were not protected speech, but "fighting words" under Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, 315 ...


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