Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Federal Jury Hits University President In The Wallet For Wrongfully Expelling A Student Protester

Hayden Barnes (right) and
FIRE lawyer Bob Corn-Revere

A federal jury has found that a former university president must pay $50,000 in damages for wrongfully expelling a student who had protested the construction of two parking garages on campus.

The verdict, in a case styled Barnes v. Zaccari, is being hailed as a major victory for supporters of free speech in higher education. Ronald M. Zaccari, former president of Valdosta State University in Georgia, was held personally liable for damages to former student Hayden Barnes, who was "administratively withdrawn" from the university after peacefully protesting a decision to build parking garages. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and attorney Bob Corn-Revere, took the case on Barnes' behalf.

Barnes has a number of parallels to my own experiences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where former president Carol Garrison OK'd my unlawful termination after almost 20 years on the job in various editorial positions. We have presented irrefutable evidence, in the form of a tape-recorded conversation with a UAB human-resources official, that I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the Bush-era political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

In my case, an employee grievance committee found that I should not have been terminated, and evidence at the hearing showed my supervisor had no grounds for even minimal discipline, much less immediate termination. Cheryl E.H. Locke, UAB's HR director at the time, upheld my termination when I refused her offer to return to a position other than the one I had before--in an unnamed department, under an unknown supervisor--with two written warnings in my file. (A UAB employee automatically is fired for a third written warning; this strongly suggests that the university was setting me up to be fired all over again, after it had botched the job on its first try.)

I appealed Locke's ruling to Garrison, but the university president went against her own grievance committee--which spent four hours hearing evidence--and upheld my termination.

The ruling in Barnes drives home the point that Garrison could be held personally responsible for depriving me of a clear constitutional right--in this case, the First Amendment right to free speech. And the damages would amount to way more than $50,000.

Of course, a corrupt federal judge named William M. Acker Jr. granted summary judgment to the university and individual defendants in my case, even though I was given no opportunity to conduct discovery. Basic procedural law, perhaps best outlined in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988), plainly states that summary judgment cannot be granted, much less considered, when the opposing party has not been given adequate opportunity to conduct discovery.

I was given no opportunity to conduct discovery, but Acker happily violated black-letter law to let Garrison and others off the hook. The good news, from my perspective, is that the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be brought again.

Barnes, at first glance, is not ground-breaking law. University officials and other "state actors" long have been subject to liability for violations of clear constitutional rights. The issue in Barnes was this: Did his enrollment at Valdosta State amount to a property right that could not be abridged without due process? In other words, did Barnes have a clear constitutional right to not be unlawfully expelled?

In 2010, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta answered that question in the affirmative, essentially stating that sovereign immunity did not protect the university president. That led to a trial and last week's $50,000 judgment against Zaccari.

Ironically, neither Zaccari nor Garrison remains in office. Zaccari was forced to resign under pressure after the Barnes lawsuit was filed. Garrison suffered a similar fate at UAB, when she stepped down under mysterious circumstances last August, just two days after fall classes started.

Why has Hayden Barnes received a significant measure of justice in his campus free-speech case, while I (so far) have been cheated on a much stronger case? As I see it, here is the major difference: Barnes had the good fortune to have the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) take up his case. I, on the other hand, have been representing myself--acting pro se, as it's called in the legal world.

A corrupt federal judge, such as William Acker Jr., has little reason to fear cheating a pro se litigant. But cheating a party who is represented by a national organization such as FIRE is a good way to draw attention to yourself. And that's the last thing a corrupt federal judge wants.

In fact, FIRE noted that campus free-speech cases can be exceptionally difficult to win without the backing of a powerful organization. From a FIRE press release:

"College administrators have been blatantly and willfully violating student rights for decades, but they have far too often dodged personal responsibility. Not so today," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "We hope this serves as a much-needed wake up call to college administrators that it's time to start paying close attention to the basic rights of their students."

I applaud FIRE's efforts on behalf of Hayden Barnes. But I would suggest the organization take a closer look at constitutional violations against university employees.

I know, from first-hand experience, that they occur all too frequently.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see a higher-ed administrator held accountable for a change.

Gerry With A G said...

This president must have been a loon. Underlings were advising him that he had no grounds to expel the student, but he did it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Valdosta State needs to hire Carol Garrison. She's probably looking for a job.

legalschnauzer said...

I would say this kid still got screwed--$50,000 isn't much when you consider that his lawyer will take a chunk, and he had to fight in court for five years.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear we still have a student in the South who cares about the environment.

Anonymous said...

FIRE and FIRE: Interesting.

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate, which has collapsed, WHILE DRONES are being very carefully added to our "reality" --

White House spokesmen had no immediate reply to a request for comment on the letter, which was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Al Franken (D- Minn.)


PRETENDING, but of course, to be caring about DRONE KILLINGS.

Right, the drones already in our skies and what these "evildoers" want is to get the YES from Holder and Obama to kill us. They are being held in check, mates, at long last. But, just-in-case, HIDE LS, you are no doubt a BIG TARGET. You can read, and are a journalist of the highest order.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

What happened to the right to self represent in the courts?

See Judge Richard Sanders, he agrees with the Legal Schnauzer right to represent as an individual, Pro Se.

Perhaps a letter to him for a representative in Alabama?

Anonymous said...

$50Gs = sickening. And the future?

"... Hillary Clinton’s departure was carefully orchestrated to preserve her chances of becoming the Democratic Party’s candidate for the next presidential election. The former first lady still contemplates returning to the White House and all the bets are on for a spectacular duel in 2016 between the two political dynasties,

with JEB BUSH (GWB’s elder brother) as the other contestant.


OMG PLEASE LS, get digging in about the coming of horror shows,

"... And so today, after four years in this job, traveling nearly a million miles and visiting 112 countries, my faith in our nation is even stronger, and my confidence in our future is as well. I know what it’s like when that blue and white airplane emblazoned with the words “United States of America” touches down in some far-off capital and I get to feel the great honor and responsibility it is to represent the world’s indispensable nation. I’m confident that my successor and his successors and all who serve in the position that I’ve been so privileged to hold will continue to lead in this century just as we did in the last – smartly, tirelessly, courageously – to make the world more peaceful, more safe, more prosperous, more free. And for that, I am very grateful.

Thank you. (Applause.)


Bill and Hillary are both "attorneys at law."

Anonymous said...

Valdosta State forced out the president and re-admitted the student? Have to give the university credit for that. At least someone in south Georgia had his head out of his ass.

Anonymous said...

LS, I think UAB forced out Carol Garrison, in part, because of your case. Of course, the board doesn't have the integrity to come forward and admit that they allowed this to happen to you. But something unusual caused them to give her the boot.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 11:30--

I agree that something unusual happened to force Garrison's ouster. Whether my situation was a factor, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Acker really should be impeached or not-so-gently ushered off the bench for what he did in your case. Anyone with three days of law school knows you can't grant summary judgment without discovery.

jeffrey spruill said...

Drawing attention to a corrupt federal judge is EXACTLY what I'm trying to do:


And this was the guy that was enamored of that corruption:


The American people would never believe what a corrupt justice system we have so behave yourselves 'cause it ain't beneath the guys to set you up: