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Party law debated in court of appeals

BOWLING GREEN Nearly a year after a municipal court judge ruled the city s nuisance party law was constitutional, the debate continues over the legality of citing those who host parties for their guests indiscretions.

Attorneys on both sides of the issue presented oral arguments before the 6th District Court of Appeals in Toledo yesterday. The three-judge panel is to issue a decision at a later date.

At stake is an ordinance approved in June, 2004, by Bowling Green City Council that gives police the authority to cite residents for a minor misdemeanor if they are hosting a party where criminal acts, such as disorderly conduct and underage consumption of alcohol, take place. Modeled after an ordinance in place in Oxford, Ohio home of Miami University the law was aimed at college parties that disrupt neighborhoods and leave behind a trail of beer cans.

Rodney Fleming, managing attorney with Student Legal Services at Bowling Green State University, contends the law was so vaguely written it could be construed to address any type of social gathering and therefore had a chilling effect on the constitutional right of assembly.

Judge Peter Handwork questioned Mr. Fleming repeatedly about that contention, asking what exactly was vague about the law.

As hosts, we cannot allow our guests to walk out our door dead drunk and drive home. We know that, Judge Handwork said, asking Mr. Fleming how that differed from Bowling Green s expectation that hosts bear responsibility for their guests behavior.

Mr. Fleming pointed out that hosts may be sued civilly if a guest injured himself or others after drinking at their party, but in Bowling Green the hosts can be held criminally liable if their guests leave litter in the yard, turn up the music too loud, or drink alcohol when they re underage.

He argued that the city should at least define party or social gathering in terms of the time of day or night or the number of guests.

By using those broad terms, social gathering or party, those terms are so vague or broad as to encompass everything we do when we come together in a group of people, Mr. Fleming said after the hearing. Clearly a college party is a party and that s what the ordinance was meant to hit, but it hits so much more than that. It hits the Tupperware party. It hits the church s ice cream social. It hits my son s 16th birthday party.

City Prosecutor Matt Reger, who wrote the law, said the law does apply to all parties but is only intended to curb illegal activity.

We re not trying to regulate the gathering. We re regulating the criminal activity that goes along with the gathering, Mr. Reger said.

Despite the legal challenges, Bowling Green police have continued to enforce the law and have had ample opportunity to do so.

Lt. Brad Biller said that between June 1 and Oct. 31, police responded to 251 incidents classified as nuisance party complaints, citing a total of 61 people for violating the nuisance party law.

Last December, Bowling Green Municipal Judge Mark Reddin upheld the ordinance, saying it did not chill anyone s right to assemble. Judge Reddin said the ordinance simply prohibits illegal conduct at out-of-control parties and holds the hosts responsible.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.

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