Here we have a case of a New Jersey high school kid in 2001 who was suspended for three days for wearing a $5.00 tee shirt to school. The offending shirt quoted Jeff Foxworthyâ€™s â€œYou might be a redneck if â€¦â€ routine. The schoolâ€™s stated reason, according to the Star Ledgerâ€™s report, was that wearing the tee shirt violated the schoolâ€™s anti-harassment policy, â€œin the wake of racial incidents in which students referring to themselves as â€˜Hicksâ€™ and â€˜Rednecksâ€™ harassed black studentsâ€.
The kid sued, claiming that the suspension violated his First Amendment rights. After five years of litigation, the â€œkidâ€, now 23 and working for a living, dropped the suit, claiming that he has â€œmoved on his lifeâ€ and that he wore the tee shirt because he thought that it was â€œfunnyâ€.
Now, the Court has ruled that the municipality must pay almost $600,000 in legal fees to the â€œkidâ€™sâ€ lawyer.
So, what the heck happened here? All I know is what the newspaper article reported, but hereâ€™s my guess as to how this played out.
The school, probably genuinely troubled with racial tensions existing at the time among the students, told the kid to go home and change his shirt. [My guess].
The kid went home and told his moonbat parents that he was sent home for wearing a shirt, which, according to the school, violated school policy. [My guess]
Rather than simply telling the kid not to wear the shirt to school, the kidâ€™s parents (probably children of the sixties) got all â€œChicago Sevenâ€ and called a lawyer. [All my guess, except for the part about actually calling a lawyer].
The lawyer read just enough First Amendment case law to figure he had enough to â€œget to a juryâ€, filed a summons and complaint. [My guess regarding the lawyerâ€™s state of mind, but a lawsuit obviously had been filed]
The town had to hire a lawyer to defend the action. [My guess, but a pretty solid one, methinks.]
Each side pounds the other with oppressive and ridiculous discovery demands. E.g. â€œProduce any and all documents related directly or indirectly to any and all school policies, including, without limitation, any and all documents drafted by, reviewed by, or referred to in such documents within the past ten years.â€ Depositions of countless school officials are demanded, as are depositions of the kid and his parents. Experts may have been retained by each side. [My guess, but an educated guess]
Motion practice begins.
Each side seeks the court to declare the other sideâ€™s discovery demands to be overbroad, vague and nothing more than a â€œfishing expeditionâ€. [Another educated guess]
The case lies dormant for a long while. [My guess]
The case is called for trial.
Now the case is five years old, and the kidâ€™s and his parentsâ€™ fist-pumping satisfaction over â€œsuing the bastardsâ€ has long since passed, and the town just wants to stop the financial bleeding. Nobody wants to proceed with the expensive discovery in order meet the trial deadline, and the lawyers on both sides are worried about getting paid â€“ especially the â€œkidâ€™sâ€ lawyer. [My guess]
The â€œkidâ€ drops the suit, and now the only issue is whether the town pays the â€œkidâ€™sâ€ legal fees, the size of which his parents never envisioned when they embarked on this adventure. [Dropping the lawsuit is a fact. The rest is my guess]
The â€œkidâ€™sâ€ lawyer (looking down the barrel of large, likely uncollectable legal fee) files a motion for payment by the town of the â€œkidâ€™sâ€ legal fees. The townâ€™s lawyers oppose the motion. Both sides drag out their now old files, and briefs are written. The town loses the motion, and the Court orders the payment of almost $600,000 to the â€œkidâ€™sâ€ lawyers. [My guess, except for the ruling on the fees]
Who Wins Here?
The â€œKidâ€? Apparently not, because, now that heâ€™s a grownup, he decided that making a living is more important than paying lawyers over the issue of wearing a tee shirt five years ago.
The Kidâ€™s Lawyer? Well, the lawyer was awarded almost $600,000 in fees, so it looks like the lawyer was the clearly â€œwinnerâ€. [It is, however, possible that the lawyer sunk much more than $600,000 worth of time into the case. The story does not make that clear.] Notably, the townâ€™s lawyer claimed a â€œvictoryâ€ in that the â€œkidâ€ dropped the suit.
Who Loses Here?
The â€œKidâ€? No. Heâ€™s â€œmoved onâ€ with his life and someone else is paying his lawyer.
The â€œKidâ€™sâ€ parents? Nope. They can brag to their cocktail party friends about suing the school to vindicate important First Amendment rights. [My guess]
The Taxpayers of the Town? Bingo! Big losers. They have to pay probably something like a half a million to defend the action brought by the “kid”, and they also have to pony up the $600,000 to pay the “kid’s” lawyer for this exercise in which not a single constitutional right was vindicated or clarified.
The Rest of Us? Yes, we all lose a little each time mindless litigiousness prevails over a bit of common sense.
And, the beat goes on.