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Airport profanity charge is dropped

March 02, 2007|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Disorderly-conduct charges have been dropped against a 26-year-old dance student who used profanity at John Wayne Airport, officials said.

A related free-speech lawsuit challenging Orange County's law governing conduct in airports is still pending, but settlement negotiations are underway, the student's lawyer said Thursday.

The case began in August when Elizabeth Venable of Riverside was flagged down by an Orange County sheriff's deputy as she shouted obscenities at a friend outside the airport's baggage-claim area, according to court records.

Families with small children were nearby and had noticed the UC Riverside student's "loud voice and constant profanity," authorities said.

When the deputy asked Venable to watch her tongue, she replied, "Is it against the [expletive] law to say [expletive]?"

The deputy then wrote her up for violating the county's airport conduct code, which bans "disorderly, obnoxious [or] indecent" behavior.

With a hearing set for this month, Venable sued Orange County in federal court two weeks ago, saying the law was unconstitutionally vague and choked free speech.

After The Times published an article on the case, the district attorney's office said it would drop the misdemeanor criminal charge.

Venable said in an interview that she might return the favor and withdraw her lawsuit -- depending on negotiations between her lawyer and county officials over legal fees and modifications to the airport conduct code.

The airport code has been on the books since at least the late 1980s and possibly since 1973, county spokeswoman Pat Markley said.

Among other things, it bans airport visitors from horseback riding, hunting animals or entering the terminal lobby without "an appropriate garment above the waist."

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roy.rivenburg@latimes.com

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