By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Acquitting a Germantown man who exposed his buttocks during an argument with a neighbor, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that mooning, while distasteful, is not illegal in Maryland.
"If exposure of half of the buttock constituted indecent exposure, any woman wearing a thong at the beach at Ocean City would be guilty," Judge John W. Debelius III said after the bench trial, reversing the ruling of a District Court judge.
Debelius made clear his disdain for the defendant, calling the alleged act "disgusting" and "demeaning." The outcome could have been different, he suggested, if the man had been on trial for "being a jerk."
The case arose from a June 7 argument between the defendant, Raymond Hugh McNealy, 44, and a neighbor, Nanette Vonfeldt. Vonfeldt pressed charges against McNealy after he allegedly yelled and, according to Vonfeldt, threatened to "blow up my building" as she and her 8-year-old daughter walked out of their apartment, in the 20200 block of Shipley Terrace in Germantown.
"Then, for whatever reason, in full view of my daughter, he mooned us," Vonfeldt wrote in a court document. The two had a long-standing feud over issues before their homeowners association, which held a heated meeting the night before, McNealy's attorneys said. McNealy wanted Vonfeldt off the association's board, his attorneys said.
The case went to trial Sept. 12 before Montgomery District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe, who ruled against the defendant. Indecent exposure in Maryland is punishable by as much as three years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
McNealy's attorneys appealed the verdict, arguing that indecent exposure in Maryland constitutes the willful public display of a person's "private parts" -- which, they argued, do not include a person's buttocks.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Dan Barnett said the indecent exposure law in Maryland is ambiguous.
"In our minds, this was not a bathing suit scenario," said Barnett, who supervises Montgomery County prosecutors who handle cases in District Court. "This was a grown man exposing himself to an 8-year-old girl."
Defense attorneys cited a 1983 case of a woman who was arrested after protesting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court wearing nothing but a cardboard sign that covered the front of her body. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in 1986 that indecent exposure is limited to a person's genitals.
James Maxwell, one of McNealy's attorneys, said yesterday's ruling should "bring comfort to all beachgoers and plumbers" in the state.