George Fishler knocked down his neighbor for years and put up yard signs disparaging his teen treatment business next door.
He believed it was in his right to free speech – a way of protesting after Eva Carlston Academy moved into a house in their narrow street at the foot of Mount Olympus.
But a state judge recently ruled that Fishler’s actions cross the line of harassment, siding with establishment owner Kristi Ragsdale, who sought a harassment injunction against Fishler six years ago.
Third District Judge Amber Mettler issued her ruling last month, finding that Fishler’s actions targeted Ragsdale and would cause a “reasonable person” to fear for his safety.
The judge noted in her ruling that Ragsdale and all of the Eva Carlston Academy employees who testified at a hearing in May became emotional as they recalled their interactions with Fishler.
Ragsdale testified that Fishler shows him and other staff his middle finger as they drive by and hurls derogatory words at the staff and the girls who live there.
“I fear for my safety,” she testified. “I fear for the safety of my colleagues. I fear for the safety of the children in my care. He calls them little sluts and little whores.
Fishler testified in May that his actions were in protest of the company, which he said “ruined my neighborhood” due to increased traffic and noise. He plans to appeal the judgment.
“I will always defend my right to free speech,” he said in a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Harassment injunction granted
That case dragged through the Utah court system for years after a judge in 2017 ruled that Ragsdale failed to prove her neighbor’s behavior met the legal definition of harassment, and she appealed. . The Utah Supreme Court overturned the decision and ordered that it be reconsidered by another judge.
Karthik Nadesan, Fishler’s attorney, said they will now appeal Mettler’s decision. Fishler plans to comply with the judge’s order while the appeal is pending.
“When I started my protest against Eva Carlston Academy (ECA), their directors sent me letters stating that my protest was hurting their profits and that they would sue me to stop me,” said Fishler in a statement. “ECA used Utah’s civil harassment statute as a vehicle to do this.”
“For the past five years,” the statement continued, “the ECA dragged me through the courts assuming that I would not bear the emotional and financial costs I paid to defend my right to freedom of phrase of the First Amendment.”
Ragsdale’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Fishler was ordered not to “follow, threaten, annoy, harass or cause distress” in Ragsdale, according to the harassment injunction. He is also prohibited from communicating with others or making gestures toward them when entering or leaving Eva Carlston Academy.
The judge did not issue a ‘restraining order’ as requested by Ragsdale, writing that it would be ‘virtually unenforceable’ for her to order Fishler not to deliberately walk past the facility because he lives to the side.
Fishler, however, will be allowed to keep his road signs posted. For the past decade, these signs have read “DELIVER US FROM EVA” and “TROUBLED TEEN MONEY MACHINE”. BECOME DISABLED FOR ONLY $10,000/MONTH.
Ragsdale had requested that they be removed, but the judge refused to order this, saying it would violate his free speech rights. The bold-printed, metal-legged signs were still in Fishler’s yard on Friday when a reporter drove past his home.
The signs have stood in front of Fishler’s property for nearly a decade, since Eva Carlston Academy opened the 16-bed location in the Mount Olympus neighborhood in 2013.
Mettler found that Fishler’s sustained efforts over nearly 10 years to yell at Eva Carlston employees and keep her signs posted were “particularly chilling given that they demonstrate obsessive and unreasonable behavior on [Fishler’s] part.”
Fishler never physically harmed anyone at Eva Carlston Academy, the judge wrote in her decision, but that didn’t alleviate her safety concerns.
“On the contrary, most reasonable people would consider [Fishler’s] driving as nearly, if not entirely, unbalanced and could quite reasonably conclude that it is unpredictable what [Fishler] is able to do.
Fishler said he felt Mettler’s decision took away a fundamental right.
“It is also very disturbing,” he said, “that the court declares me ‘unbalanced’ because of my determination to exercise and defend my rights.”
Fishler insisted he was not personally directing his signs or gestures at Ragsdale – but only protesting his business.
Ragsdale testified in May that Fishler’s behavior affected his business, where parents pay $12,900 a month for their daughters to attend, and caused them to take more safety precautions.
“Neither my students nor my colleagues can come peacefully to our house and just exist,” she testified. “We can’t just drive peacefully through our neighborhood without being accosted, stalked and humiliated by this man. It’s so stressful and it’s been going on for too long.