Thursday, April 20, 2017
Court filing notes decision does not prevent Joplin schools from going to Victory Ministries
And you can't blame them for being under that impression.
After all, that was the Globe's article on the Victory Ministries' lawsuit win over the Joplin R-8 School District said.
Readers all over the country learned the same thing from Associated Press articles barictsed on the Globe article.
The only problem is Harpool never made any such ruling.
The school district can still take field trips to Victory such as the one that brought the lawsuit. Harpool put some restrictions on the field trips, but they can be held.
He had already made that clear in his original decision when he noted there would have been no problem with going to Victory or another religious setting for a "social activity."
And while it is almost certain that is what the North Middle School field trips were, it was actions taken by district officials that ended up opening the door for the lawsuit. North sent the students home with permission slips that not only allowed Victory personnel to promote religion, but also permitted Victory to use photos of the students to promote the facility.
When the lawyer for the American Humanist Association contacted Superintendent C. J. Huff, he acknowledged there were problems with the permission slips and said the district would do better the next year, adding that, of course, everyone wanted to do what was right for the kids.
Even after Victory officials gave their OK to send out revised permission slips that removed the religious references, Huff simply decided not to send those slips home.
Harpool criticized Huff's decisions in his rulings, but he never shut the door on field trips to Victory.
So even though the decision was technically a win for Jane Doe and the Ameican Humanit Association and has been promoted heavily as such, as attorney Tyler Strodton noted in a document filed Thursday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, it was really not the clearcut win it appeared to be at first glance.
Strodton, an attorney with the Joplin firm of Blanchard, Roberts, Mitchell, and Carter, pointed out that out in his arguments against the fees claimed by Jane Doe's attorneys:
Plaintiff’s Complaint and Proposed Judgment sought an injunction wholly prohibiting Defendants from attending Victory. However, the relief actually awarded to Plaintiff fell far short. Instead, Defendants were enjoined from attending Victory under three enumerated conditions in the Court’s Judgment. Many of those conditions are ones that were not actually at issue in this case, e.g., there was no evidence that students were subjected to sermons.
Defendants did not—and would not—dispute that it would be improper to engage in the enumerated conditions. Defendants never claimed a desire to allow students to appear in religious promotions or to send out the release with the problematic language in the future. Instead, Defendants merely argued that the facts and circumstances of the trip to Victory had not violated those conditions. The injunctive relief actually granted Plaintiff falls far short of that sought in her Complaint and supports a reduction to the proposed fee award.
Strodton also argued that the rates claimed by the four attorneys, $375 an hour, $425 an hour, $500 an hour, and $315 an hour, for a total of $211,281.45, were "excessive in light of the customary charges for similar work throughout the State, let alone for civil rights litigation in southwest Missouri."
He also noted that some billing appeared "redundant" and that more hour were claimed for some activities than were necessary.
The attorney payment is the sole remaining area to be determined by Harpool. The plaintiffs, Jane Doe and her children, received $1 apiece.
The complete text of Harpool's order can be found in the March 16 Turner Report.