Under Washington law, “unlawful harassment” is “a knowing and willful course of conduct” directed toward a particular person that “seriously alarms, annoys, harasses, or is detrimental” to that person. To be unlawful harassment, the conduct cannot serve a legitimate or lawful purpose. Furthermore, the course of conduct must be the type of conduct that would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress, and it must actually cause distress to the person seeking the protection order. RCW 10.14.020. Although communications are included in the “course of conduct,” constitutionally protected speech is not.
A Washington appeals court considered whether a woman’s actions were protected by the First Amendment in a recent unpublished case. The woman appealed a civil anti-harassment protection order on the grounds that it was based on constitutionally protected speech. She also argued that the oral findings of the trial court had not been supported by substantial evidence.
In his testimony in support of the petition, the appellant’s former romantic partner testified the appellant had contacted his female acquaintance and pointed her to a website containing a post, partly written by the appellant, that described his alleged history of affairs. He also testified that she called him an “impulsive alcoholic, with a violent streak.”