June 20, 2006

The $600,000 Tee Shirt.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 11:21 pm

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 Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if …” routine. The school’s stated reason, according to the Star Ledger’s report, was that wearing the tee shirt violated the school’s anti-harassment policy, “in the wake of racial incidents in which students referring to themselves as ‘Hicks’ and ‘Rednecks’ harassed black students”.

The kid sued, claiming that the suspension violated his First Amendment rights. After five years of litigation, the “kid”, now 23 and working for a living, dropped the suit, claiming that he has “moved on his life” and that he wore the tee shirt because he thought that it was “funny”.

Now, the Court has ruled that the municipality must pay almost $600,000 in legal fees to the “kid’s” lawyer.

So, what the heck happened here? All I know is what the newspaper article reported, but here’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 kid’s parents (probably children of the sixties) got all “Chicago Seven” 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 “get to a jury”, filed a summons and complaint. [My guess regarding the lawyer’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.]

Discovery begins.

Each side pounds the other with oppressive and ridiculous discovery demands. E.g. “Produce 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.” 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 side’s discovery demands to be overbroad, vague and nothing more than a “fishing expedition”. [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 kid’s and his parents’ fist-pumping satisfaction over “suing the bastards” 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 – especially the “kid’s” lawyer. [My guess]

The “kid” drops the suit, and now the only issue is whether the town pays the “kid’s” 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 “kid’s” lawyer (looking down the barrel of large, likely uncollectable legal fee) files a motion for payment by the town of the “kid’s” legal fees. The town’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 “kid’s” lawyers. [My guess, except for the ruling on the fees]

Who Wins Here?

The “Kid”? Apparently not, because, now that he’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 Kid’s Lawyer? Well, the lawyer was awarded almost $600,000 in fees, so it looks like the lawyer was the clearly “winner”. [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 town’s lawyer claimed a “victory” in that the “kid” dropped the suit.

Who Loses Here?

The “Kid”? No. He’s “moved on” with his life and someone else is paying his lawyer.

The “Kid’s” 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.

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