Thomas Mink and The Howling Pig: ACLU's illegal search case moves forward six years later
In December 2003, the Ault, Colorado home onetime UNC student Thomas Mink shared with his mom was raided by police. His crime? Satirizing a UNC professor named Junius Peake as "Junius Puke" in his self-published newsletter, The Howling Pig.
"Junius Puke" in "The Howling Pig."
Thus began a court fight whose latest chapter ended yesterday with a court victory for Mink. If only the ACLU lawyer supporting him knew where the hell he was...
The basics of the dispute were laid out like so in "The Art of the Matter," a January 22, 2004 Message column:
On the Pig's home page..., a disclaimer differentiates Puke, who's seen wearing Gene Simmons makeup, from Peake, the 72-year-old Monfort Distinguished Professor of Finance at UNC's Monfort College of Business, and a nationally recognized expert on microstructure; he's appeared on National Public Radio and other major news organs. Nonetheless, a second picture of Puke that, like the first, is a doctored rendering of a Peake glossy, shows him sporting a tiny mustache that the professor interpreted as a nod to Adolf Hitler when he saw a copy of the Pig at UNC last fall. "How would you like it if someone sent out a newsletter likening you to Hitler?" he asks. "I lived through the Hitler era. I had friends who died then. To me, that was the worst thing."
Maybe so, but he didn't like the rest of his portrayal, either -- and subsequently expressed his frustration to the Weld County District Attorney's Office. The article continues:
Peake says DA representatives then brought in the cops under Colorado's criminal-libel statute, a law declaring that published statements "tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or expose the natural defects of one who is alive" may be considered a felony. Conviction carries a possible two years in the pokey and a $100,000 fine.
Greeley cops seized Mink's computer as part of its investigation -- an action that immediately stoked the ire of the local ACLU branch, which took on his cause.
As recapped in the next week's Message column, the charges against Peake were soon dropped -- but the case lived on as a way to attack Colorado's criminal libel statute. As Mink wrote in an e-mail at the time, "I think the thing should be taken off the books one way or another. The possibility of the legislature taking that on during this session has been raised and I think that may affect how we move forward with the suit on the constitutionality of the law. But either way, I hope to do what I can to get rid of such an antiquated, piece-of-crap law that can be used so easily to stifle free speech."
"Junius Puke" with 'stache.
That turned out to be a mission impossible -- and the case itself has taken the legal team on quite a ride, as the ACLU's Mark Silverstein explains.