Former NYPD Cop Denied 'Get Osama' License Plate

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson and Heather Nauert," November 19, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JOHN GIBSON, CO-HOST: We all want to get Osama bin Laden but the DMV says you can't say that on your license plate. The Department of Motor Vehicles in New York has banned a retired cop from getting vanity plates for his car that says "Get Osama."

Bin Laden is, of course, the world's most wanted terrorist and there's a $25 million reward for his capture, but the DMV says a plate that says "Get Osama" is offensive. What?

Here now is Andrew Smiley, a civil rights and trial attorney.

So, Andrew, the U.S. government says "Get Osama," why can't you say it on your license plate?

ANDREW SMILEY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTY: This is crazy. It's a crazy decision by the Department of Motor Vehicles. We've all had our complaints there, but certainly this takes the cake. He's public enemy No. 1 and they're claiming that there's some regulation in the DMV that if you apply for a plate that's lewd or lascivious or offensive...

HEATHER NAUERT, CO-HOST: They already issued the plate. Can they make this guy give it back?

SMILEY: Well, they're claiming it was by error that the plates went out and that when he called for the registration, they said, oh no, we didn't mean to give it to you, send us the plates back. The question is who is offended by a license plate that says "Get Osama" other than maybe Osama bin Laden, himself, or some other terrorists?

GIBSON: Are we trying to protect the communist community?

SMILEY: It sounds that way to me. That's what makes this so ridiculous. I mean, there's absolutely no one that should be offended by this license plate. If anything, it should be awarded as an act of patriotism.

NAUERT: OK, but what are the no-no's? There are no-no's, the DMV won't give you any old license plate, or at least they're not supposed to. What are those no-no's?

SMILEY: Something that's lewd and lascivious — dirty words, you know, four-letter words, so to speak.

NAUERT: Offensive?

SMILEY: Offensive, something that really strikes the ear in something that's offensive to the public at large.

NAUERT: Could this be seen as offensive to an ethnic group?

SMILEY: Well, that's what they're claiming. The question is it's not the statement, it's "Get Osama." It's not a claim against an ethnic group, in particular. What's wrong with saying "Get Osama?" There's no doubt that this is the man to get.

GIBSON: Who makes these kinds of decisions? We talked about the DMV. There's some person there who made this call. Is that person going to stick his or her head up and take a bow for this or take the heat, or is this just sort of — blend into the bureaucracy and nobody is ever responsible?

SMILEY: Well, I'd certainly like to see the person stand up for this decision. We all know when you go to DMV you're dealing with a bureaucracy and very difficult people, here. So, there is some person there on a power trip for whatever decision, says, you know what? I'm vetoing this, there's no way I'm letting this plate go.

GIBSON: Does this guy get to challenge this?

SMILEY: I think — well, you know, you don't have a legal right to put whatever you want on a license plate. It's a vanity plate and they don't have to give it to you, but it would be interesting in this political climate of let's say the person reached out to Senator Clinton, said let's going on here, you're all pro-get Osama bin Laden, you know, stir it up here.

GIBSON: Or Senator Schumer.

SMILEY: Or Senator Schumer.

GIBSON: Or Governor Spitzer.

SMILEY: Exactly. Or President Bush. Anybody with some power could to get in touch with the people, get them on the phone and say, what's going on here, this is nonsense, who made this decision?

GIBSON: But, this guy is, what's we say? Fireman? A retired cop?

NAUERT: New York cop, yeah.

SMILEY: Police officer.

GIBSON: He doesn't have the dough to go out and litigate against the federal government. Is there someone who would step up and aid him in his hour of need?

SMILEY: I'm sure there are plenty of people that'd be happy to step into the spotlight on this issue. But, I think with a simple phone call or a letter placed to the right office of some political candidate, that might get the wheels spinning, here.

NAUERT: Is there a community standard for what's offensive in one community and not in another. What I mean by that is in New York, you can't drive anywhere without seeing something related to 9/11, flags, you know, we miss our friends, so and so. Could it be seen that it's OK here, but maybe not OK or appropriate elsewhere?

SMILEY: It might be. It might be. I mean, this is the state DMV, this is not a national DMV, this is New York state and it's actually by the town or the county, I believe this was Suffolk County out on long Island. So, depending on the DMV office, the person making the decision, you'll probably get a different decision in different offices and different states and different locations.

GIBSON: Civil rights attorney and trial attorney, Andrew Smiley. Andrew, thanks very much. I hope that cop wins his plate.

SMILEY: I hope so. Thank you.

NAUERT: Thank you, Andrew.

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