Attorney: Grass Valley’s restraining order against Coulter ‘unconstitutional’ |

Attorney: Grass Valley’s restraining order against Coulter ‘unconstitutional’

Matthew Coulter

The public defender for a Grass Valley man known for speaking out at local government meetings argued in court that a restraining order filed against him was unconstitutional and should be dismissed.

Matthew Ward Coulter, 57, currently has two criminal misdemeanor cases pending on charges that he disobeyed that court order in Grass Valley, as well as a Nevada City case in which he was charged with resisting arrest.

The city of Grass Valley in 2018 filed for a restraining order against Coulter, which is set to expire this September. A similar restraining order filed by Nevada County is pending and is set for a hearing in July.

The court order in place for Grass Valley is “overly broad and vague,” Assistant Public Defender Susan Leff told Nevada County Superior Court Judge Scott Thomsen during a Thursday hearing.

Leff argued that Coulter would have to have “psychic powers” to be able to comply fully with the order, because he was not provided with a list of every city employee, their home address and where they might be working on any given day.

Coulter’s apartment looks out onto Memorial Park, Leff said, pointing out that he is probably violating the 100-yard stay-away order while in his own home.

Leff also argued that Coulter had been charged with violating the restraining order simply because he was “disgruntled,” adding, “Flipping somebody off is not against the law. We know that. … And that’s what has happened here. This is unconstitutional.”

Deputy District Attorney Kenny Nguyen, however, said Coulter had intentionally harassed city employees, approaching them and berating them for doing their jobs. Nguyen also argued Thomsen did not have the authority to vacate a restraining order made by another court — in this case, a civil order made by Judge Thomas Anderson.

Thomsen said he would deny Leff’s “invitation” to attack the civil department’s authority in granting the restraining order. He noted that Coulter could have sought a modification of the order and did not do so.

The two Grass Valley cases stem from Coulter having allegedly violated the restraining order on Feb. 11 and on May 1 by berating or swearing at city employees. The Nevada City case sets from a March 5 arrest in which he is alleged to have gotten into a verbal altercation with contractors outside City Hall and then became combative with officers.

Coulter will be back in court on June 9 to enter a plea in all three criminal cases — the two violations of the Grass Valley restraining order and the Nevada City arrest in March. There also will be a hearing on the return of his cell phone, which is being held by Grass Valley Police as evidence. According to Nguyen, there are photos and possibly video on the phone that could demonstrate whether Coulter was in fact violating the restraining order.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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