Guilty Phone Monopolist Freed
On October 1, last, a New York state law became effective requiring that a person using a party-line telephone surrender it immediately when another person breaks in and says he wants to call a physician or report an “emergency,” such as a fire. If the emergency is a fraud through which the use of the telephone is usurped, the usurper is subject to prosecution under the same statute. It carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail, a fine of $500, or both.
The first case to be tried under this law was concluded May 24, last, when Dutchess County Judge John R. Schwartz set free Mrs. Mary L. Kayes, 43, housewife whose husband is caretaker at Camp Berich near Clinton Corners, N. Y.
Mrs. Kayes refused to yield the phone on January 21, last, during an incident that occurred in the town of Clinton, near Poughkeepsie. At 2:09 p.m. that date, she was talking to a friend in Rochester, N. Y., on a seven-party line. Three minutes later, Donald Townsend, a volunteer fireman and dispatcher, tried to report a grass fire a few miles down the road from the Kayes. The fire eventually burned down a barn. Townsend quoted Mrs. Kayes as saying “Let the damned thing burn.” Townsend and Deputy Sheriff Charles Borchers brought Mrs. Kayes in for prosecution and, after many weeks of legal maneuvering, the case came to court, before a jury of men and women, which after deliberating some five hoars, found her guilty.
After listening to statements made by the defense attorney and Dutchess County District Attorney Raymond C. Baratta in which leniency was recommended by both sides because Mrs. Kayes had a change of heart and surrendered the line eventually and attempted herself to pass along the alarm, the judge suspended sentence.
Judge Schwartz in suspending sentence, stated the woman s refusal to yield the line had been “hasty and brief.” The value of such a law is evident, he said, but while he considered the jury’s verdict (guilty) against Mrs. Kayes a proper one, he said no purpose would be served by subjecting her to punishment. He said he was convinced Mrs. Kayes would not repeat her offense, and discharged the $500 bail under which she had been at liberty.
Mrs. Kayes reportedly now has given up her party phone and has a private line. She admitted that her failure to hang, up was “the wrong thing to do.”
This case has received wide publicity throughout the nation; many newspapers editorialized on it. The New York Herald-Tribune, for example under date of May 30, 1955, said in an editorial— among other things—“It is to be hoped that all such callers will take due note of the precedent established in the case of Mrs. Kayes. It’s small wonder that the barn burned up while the conversation prolonged itself. Many a would-be telephone user has done the same thing.”