Christopher Dupuy spent 11 months in Galveston County jail awaiting trial for allegedly posting online escort ads using the likenesses of two women he knew, but a Galveston County District Court judge on Monday tossed the charges, calling the statute used to charge Dupuy "overbroad."
Prosecutors allege the 44-year-old Dupuy, a former Galveston County judge who quit the bench in 2013 after pleading guilty to perjury and abuse of office, posted the ads in late 2014. They included the phone number and photos of an ex-girlfriend's face and breasts, and the number of a woman who rejected his advances. The ads included language like "VERY FETISH FRIENDLY" and a stated fee of $70 per half-hour.
Prosecutors had charged Dupuy under the state's online impersonation law, which essentially bars using another person's name or persona "with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person."
Dupuy's lawyers argued that the law is too vague, and Visiting Harris County District Judge Ryan Patrick agreed.
But the advertisements at the center of the state's case against Dupuy were just the tip of what authorities in both Galveston and Harris counties described as a very dangerous iceberg.
Investigators said they traced computer IP addresses back to Dupuy, who was arrested at his League City home in June 2015. A Harris County Sheriff's detective later testified authorities had to kick in Dupuy's door after Dupuy refused to allow police entry for a warrant, and that Dupuy was found in his kitchen, holding a bullet in one hand, with a laser-sighted 9-mm pistol nearby.
Here's what else investigators said they found: another laser-sighted pistol (with a silencer); a 950,000-volt stun gun shaped like a pair of brass knuckles; a large knife; magazines for the handguns; duct tape and a pair of black gloves. They also testified to finding campfire starters and a lighter, a passport and a GPS tracking device.
Calling Dupuy a threat to the community, prosecutors sought an extraordinarily high bond — $600,000
each on two counts of online impersonation, a third-degree felony. A judge eventually reduced the sum to $200,000 each.
Dupuy faced 2-10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine per count.
Dupuy had been a polarizing figure in Galveston County legal circles. Some lawyers had accused him of using his position on the bench to retaliate against enemies perceived and real. In 2013, then-Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss emailed county officials with complaints about Dupuy, claiming that "county employees, family members of county employees, litigants, and attorneys are expressing concern...that they are afraid Judge Dupuy will become violent and hurt or kill someone."
In an email to the Houston Chronicle, Dupuy called Criss "a political nutcase and embarrassment."
An ex-girlfriend also accused Dupuy in 2013 of scheming to kill his ex-wife, fake his death and flee to New Zealand, but Dupuy was never charged in connection with the allegation. Dupuy denied the accusation, claiming he was the victim of a conspiracy mounted by a shadowy cabal called "The Don Tequila Society," which included prosecutors and county officials. In a February appellate court filing, Dupuy wrote that his case had been "secretly transferred" from one court to another because the original judge "was not a member of the Don Tequila Society."
In 2014, after Dupuy resigned from the bench, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded the former judge, concluding that Dupuy had engaged in witness tampering, had "harassed, bullied, and maligned county officials," and had lied under oath about owning a silencer during child custody hearings with his ex-wife.
Dupuy has consistently denied posting the fake escort ads, and maintained in that same appellate filing that he's guilty only of "being politically opposed to the District Attorney and the publically [sic] sanctioned trial judge, as well as an outspoken critic of Galveston County corruption."
Dupuy had previously challenged the constitutionality of the online impersonation law. He cited a May 2015 decision by a Harris County district judge that called the statute overbroad. But Dupuy didn't have any luck until Houston attorney Mark Bennett — who successfully argued the Harris County case — filed a motion on Dupuy's behalf in December 2015.
Prosecutors argued the statute didn't overstep its bounds because it only banned conduct, not speech, but Bennett's filing attacked that notion. Judge Patrick sided with the defense. (Just to make things more confusing, the case was reassigned from Galveston County District Judge Michelle Slaughter to Patrick, who had presided over Dupuy's perjury and abuse of office charges.)
For one thing, Bennett argued, "using another's persona" — i.e., a photo of a woman's breasts in a fake escort ad calling her a whore — is a time-honored tradition, à la "Chevy Chase playing Gerald Ford, Dana Carvey playing George H.W. Bush, or Jay Pharoah playing Barack Obama."
Bennett argued that using someone's persona "with the intent to defraud" or to make "true threats"is not protected speech; but "intimidation, aside from true threats," is. He also points out that, if a person's identity is hijacked in order to spread false content, the proper remedy would be a defamation case.
"The government may not criminalize everything that harms someone's reputation," Bennett wrote. "Sometimes constitutionally protected speech is heinous and reprehensible. Sometimes it causes real-world harm. There is no 'harm' exception to the First Amendment's protections."
Galveston County Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole told the Houston Press that he is appealing the ruling.
Dupuy is due back in court August 1 for a hearing on whether he violated the terms of his two-year probation related to his 2013 abuse of office charge. Meanwhile, he's still under strict bond conditions — he has to wear a GPS tracker and keep a daily journal of anything he does outside of his home. He's also not allowed to text, use social media, or use or possess "any knife other than a standard steak knife."
Attorney James Hernandez, who represented Dupuy's ex-wife Adrienne Viterna in the couple's protracted family court cases, told the Press that he and his co-counsel, Lori Laird, "are worried about the safety of Adrienne and her children, as well as the victims of the fake escort ads. The common theme underlying the criminal allegations against Dupuy is revenge."
Hernandez said at the conclusion of Dupuy's bond hearing last year, the judge concluded Dupuy was a danger to the community. Hernandez said he believes Dupuy remains a danger, and urged police to be vigilant.
We were unable to reach Dupuy at the phone numbers he listed in court records, but we left a message with his mother, who said that a court order barred Dupuy from speaking with anyone other than his attorney or court officials.
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