The city is Baldwin Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Here’s the e-mail, as it was sent to me (I have no reason to doubt its authenticity; I tried to reach the city attorney to confirm it, and get his side of the story, but have gotten no response so far):
From: Robert Tafoya …
Date: Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 2:46 PM
Subject: Harassing Emails to City Staff
To: “Paul Cook …” …
Dear Mr. Cook:
I write to request that you immediately cease and desist sending harassing and offensive emails to City Staff including, but not limited to, Mr. Graves. If you continue these unnecessary, harassing and offensive emails, you will force me to go back into Court to seek that the Court again request that you stop the harassment.
I trust this will not be necessary.
– Robert Manuel Nacionales Tafoya
City Attorney, City of Baldwin Park
Assistant City Attorney, City of Lynwood
The two e-mails that triggered this threat were apparently the following:
From: Paul Cook …
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 4:10 PM
Subject: Eat it!
From: Paul Cook …
Date: Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Subject: Oh Gravey – I’m sure Palm Springs ain’t happy with you
To: Craig Graves …
Nothing threatening here, and to the extent it’s “offensive,” it’s so because it involves a citizen admonishing government officials that he believes are misbehaving — something that seems to me to be a basic First Amendment right. Longtime readers of the blog may recall that this came up in my State v. Drahota case, where the Nebraska Supreme Court concluded,
The ability of a constituent to voice his concerns and opinions to his elected representatives, and to those who wish to become his representatives, is the cornerstone of republican government. We reject the State’s contention that Drahota’s mere sending of an e-mail constituted a breach of the peace because Avery had previously asked Drahota not to communicate again.
There is a backstory here: The mayor of Baldwin Park had sought a restraining order against Cook, which the court refused to issue. (The first of Cook’s e-mails shown above is Cook crowing about that victory.) The court apparently advised Cook “to stay away from the mayor,” and said that, “If you don’t, it increases the likelihood of a permanent restraining order.” But whatever effect angry physical approaches to a government official might have on a future restraining order case, e-mails sent to the officials’ government e-mail addresses wouldn’t qualify (unless they included threats, which these ones don’t).
Cook has also been recently arrested for “disturbing an assembly,” based on allegations that he angrily heckled a city official during a speech by the official. That charge is still pending, and it’s not clear how far it will go, given the limitations imposed on that criminal law by a California Supreme Court decision. But in any event, it can’t justify restrictions on e-mails, which (even if offensive) are far removed from heckling, and can easily be ignored if the recipients don’t want to read them.