NILES, Mich. (WOOD) - Hours after a circuit court judge ordered the bond for a woman jailed for swearing reduced to the $500 she already paid, LaRue Ford walked out of the Berrien County Jail.
The ACLU filed an emergency appeal to get Ford released from the jail, where she's been since Dec. 18 for cursing in the court clerk's office.
She said her first thoughts when she walked out shortly before 4 p.m. were, "I'm free. You know, free." She added, "I guess right now I'm just speechless, I'm tired. I've just been through so much."
At the request of the ACLU, Circuit Judge Alfred Butzbaugh overruled District Court Judge Dennis Wiley and reduced her bond.
She originally posted $500 (10%) of the $5,000 bond, but had her bond revoked because she was moving to Indiana and had no permanent address.
The ACLU maintains Ford's 1st Amendment rights were violated and they allege District Court Judge Dennis Wiley abused his authority in jailing Ford and revoking her bond.
She admits cursing, but said it was to herself as she left the clerk's office frustrated after getting the runaround while trying to clear up an old traffic ticket. When she returned with $50 to finally clear it up, Judge Dennis Wiley ordered her arrested.
"It wasn't necessary, it wasn't even necessary to put me through all this," Ford told 24 Hour News 8. "I know this is just the beginning."
But it was the last day on the bench for Judge Butzbaugh, who is retiring. Her case will be heard at a later date by a different circuit court judge.
Though an emergency hearing on the case was not held Friday, ACLU attorney Targowski called it "a Hollywood ending."
"We don't have, ultimately, a whole, a win yet as to the contempt charge," Targowski said. "But I feel like we got what we wanted to get today."
Ford, who holds a master's degree in social work, is 49 and has no criminal record.
Before she rode away with a friend, she thanked those who listened "to my story because they didn't believe me when I told them. They didn't believe me. So someone listened. And that's what helped me get out of there or I would still be in there."
Her family is driving in from Chicago.
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