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Judge jails Round Lake woman over profane T-shirt
By Lee Filas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/5/2010 12:02 PM | Updated: 5/5/2010 6:56 PM

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A Round Lake Park woman was released from jail Tuesday after she was locked up for wearing a T-shirt that a Lake County circuit court judge found inappropriate.

Following her release, Jennifer LaPenta, 19, claimed Associate Judge Helen Rozenberg violated her rights by finding her in contempt of court.

"They didn't even tell me what I was in jail for, didn't give me water and refused to give me a phone call for six hours," said LaPenta. "They didn't even give me an opportunity to change the shirt or even ask me to leave the courtroom. She just threw me in jail."

An assistant for Rozenberg said Wednesday the judge could not comment on the case.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said initial reports show his deputies handled LaPenta properly, but that he'll investigate nonetheless.

LaPenta said the incident happened Monday when a friend called for a ride to court as LaPenta ended workout at a Round Lake-area fitness center. She wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a crude slogan referring to a part of the female anatomy, and sweatpants.

LaPenta acknowledged the slogan on the shirt was inappropriate for court, but said she didn't have time to change before getting the friend to Waukegan in time for a 1:30 p.m. court call.

"Truthfully, I didn't even remember what the shirt said when I went to the courthouse," she said. "I was just worried about getting my friend to court on time."

She said she walked into court with the friend - past a courtroom bailiff - and found the only seat available, in the front row of the gallery, just moments before Rozenberg entered at 1:17 p.m.

LaPenta said she was called before Rozenberg when the judge noticed her shirt.

"She asked me if I thought the shirt was appropriate to wear in the courtroom," LaPenta said. "I told her if I was a defendant in court, then no, it wasn't appropriate. But, I was just there because my friend needed a ride."

Sheriff's deputies provide courtroom security and act at the request of a judge if contempt is suspected, Curran said. He said judges vary in how they try to maintain proper courtroom decorum among visitors and those before the bench.

"I think shirts like that (worn by LaPenta) denigrate the whole process," Curran said Wednesday. "It was a pornographic shirt."

Contempt of court carries a maximum punishment of six months in a county jail and a $500 fine. LaPenta was sentenced to 48 hours behind bars, she said. She was released from the Lake County jail courthouse holding pen after 24 hours for time served.

LaPenta's attorney, Pete Kalagas, said he is trying to set up a meeting with Lake County Chief Judge Victoria A. Rossetti to discuss the matter. Rossetti did not return messages seeking comment.

"I'm absolutely baffled by this," Kalagas said. "My client willingly offered to leave the courtroom or take the shirt off, but the judge refused and, instead, threw her in jail with rapists and murderers."

LaPenta contends she informed Rozenberg that she would remove the T-shirt for one she had on underneath or even leave the courtroom.

"But, the judge said 'The only place you are going is to jail,'" LaPenta said. "I mean, I really didn't realize I was wearing the shirt. I've never been to court before and never had anything more on my record than a traffic ticket."