The Ruling That Opens a Crack in the Door

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

So this week a Montgomery County judge has ruled that mooning is a cheeky yet legitimate form of communication -- but then, Chaucer and Mel Gibson taught us that long ago.

The truth is that words frequently fail the human species. If you want to send a message, don't call Western Union; an even older, surer technology might serve. Unbuckle, bend, let it shine.

What's the message?

"He was showing his disapproval. . . . It was intended to offend, in the sense of being critical," says lawyer James Maxwell, speaking of his client, Raymond McNealy, 44.

Last June, exasperated by a feud involving a homeowners association, McNealy felt moved to moon his Germantown neighbor, Nanette Vonfeldt, a member of the association's board, who was accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter. McNealy was put on trial for indecent exposure -- and found guilty last fall. His misbegotten moon could have cost him three years in prison and a $1,000 fine. After an automatic appeal, this week the verdict was reversed.

Mooning is a blunt instrument to communicate just the sort of disapproval/contempt/derision that homeowners associations can elicit. It is not particularly nice or well-mannered. As Circuit Court Judge John W. Debelius III said in the acquittal, the act is "disgusting" and "demeaning." McNealy, who is retired on disability from his family's home improvement business, might have experienced a different judicial outcome, added the judge, if he had been on trial for "being a jerk."

At a time when some say civil liberties are being restricted (the Patriot Act is silent on mooning), it may be comforting that the right of Marylanders to moon has been affirmed. But the implications are staggering.

Are Free Staters free to moon anybody, anytime? Will FedEx Field fill with burgundy and gold crescents beaming down the next time the Cowboys are in town? Will there be full moons all over College Park every night there's a basketball game with Duke? On the annual lobby day in Annapolis, when the masses come to petition the legislature for their favorite causes, will they dispense with the formalities and just drop their pants? Can citizens moon judges, police officers, the governor?

"I don't think that mooning the governor -- I'm not suggesting it's a nice thing to do -- would be any worse in terms of violation of criminal law than thumbing your nose," opines Maxwell.

He considers his court victory a nice bit of legal reasoning: "With hard work, we cracked the case, no buts about it."

Not so fast, says Montgomery County State's Attorney Doug Gansler: "This is not a blanket permission slip to moon in Maryland."

Here the lawyers fall into an arcane back-and-forth. While Maxwell says the judge ruled that buttocks are never "private parts" to fit the crime of indecent exposure, Gansler says he'd prosecute again if an alleged mooner intended his act as a crime.

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