Local police have had to wade into the Medford teachers' strike to make sure protesters, the protested and supporters of both all play safe and fair — but the agencies might find themselves in the middle of a little legal skirmish because of it.
Jackson County sheriff's deputies Monday were issuing $160 unnecessary noise tickets to motorists honking their horns to show support for those picketing at Griffin Creek Elementary School, where protesters stopped asking for honking support and began warning passersby to lay off their horns.
Medford police have issued two careless driving tickets to the drivers of vehicles that made contact with ever-so-slow-walking protesters on crosswalks and sidewalks that crossed driveways, with no injuries reported, police said.
"We're the referees out there," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said.
Medford police are standing by daily during protests outside of the city's three high schools, as well as the grade schools getting picketed that day.
For the Sheriff's Department, Monday's events were the first at either Griffin Creek or Ruch schools, two Medford School District schools outside of city limits.
Sheriff's deputies wrote at least three tickets for illegal honking, and then told protesters what the law says and what would happen to those honking in support, sheriff's Sgt. Rick Kennedy said.
"We're out there for the safety of everybody," Kennedy said.
"We can't be on one side or the other," he said. "We have to be right down the middle. That's our job. That's what we're doing."
Oregon Revised Statute 815.225, which regulates "violation of use limits on sound equipment," has a legally checkered past and rarely comes into play as it did Monday for protesters and their horn-honking supporters at Griffin Creek.
The statute outlaws the use of a horn other than "as a reasonable warning" and the statute specifically targets "any unnecessary or unreasonably loud or harsh sound by means of a horn or other warning device."
Those who received tickets face fines of $160, police said.
Or do they?
Oregon Court of Appeals records show that in three separate cases — two in Eugene in 1992 and another in Multnomah County in 2006 — appellate judges threw out the tickets after ruling they violated Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution guaranteeing "free expression of opinion."
Even so, the law remains on the books, having never been repealed by the Oregon Legislature or by the initiative process.
"It is often the case that unconstitutional statutes are not appealed," said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which found legal representatives for the successful 1992 appellants. "We try to get the Legislature to clear things up periodically, but, frankly, we focus on the criminal statutes as a priority."
Fidanque recommended that anyone receiving one of these horn-honking citations to fight it in Jackson County Justice Court.
"Show up in court and plead not guilty," Fidanque said. "If it's not dismissed, then feel free to get a hold of the ACLU."
Budreau said Medford police have not issued any horn-honking citations and likely won't.
"It depends upon the situation and the officer's discretion," Budreau said. Writing tickets for all the honkers, he said, "would be rather difficult logistically," he said.
Other legal nuances that rarely come up under non-strike circumstances also have surfaced at picketing sites since the strike began Feb. 6.
On Thursday morning at Central Medford High School and again Monday morning at North Medford High School, Medford police issued careless driving tickets to motorists involved in the cat-and-mouse games between picketers and those attempting to drive into school parking lots, Budreau said.
The lots often are blocked by picketers inching their way across the driveway but in the sidewalk, he said.
"Sometimes it takes up to even a full minute to get out of the way," Budreau said.
As long as the protesters are moving and remain in the sidewalk, then they are legal, Budreau said.
In two cases, police witnessed a vehicle coming into contact with the protester, leading to careless driving citations even though no one was injured, Budreau said.
Since the carelessness did not involve an accident, the fines were $280, Budreau said. The fine is $435 if the carelessness leads to an accident, he said.
If the protesters stop in the driveway, then they run the risk of receiving a citation into Medford Municipal Court on a disorderly conduct charge for illegally blocking vehicle traffic, Budreau said. No tickets had been issued for that as of midday Monday, he said.
Upon a disorderly conduct conviction, any fine would be determined by a municipal judge, Budreau said.