Friday, June 30, 2017
Joplin R-8 board approves payment of $150,000+ in attorney fees for Victory Ministries lawsuit
During a closed session Tuesday night, the Board voted unanimously to pay $159,911.45, with $103,976.45 going to the American Humanist Association and $46,935 to Benson and Associates.
U. S. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool ordered the payments after trimming down Jane Doe's attorney initial request for $211,000.
The decision brings an end to a lawsuit that never should have happened.
Doe filed the lawsuit on behalf of her children after North Middle School took a MAP celebration field trip to Victory Ministries. Doe's attorneys said it was a violation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.
While Harpool's ruling was a win for Jane Doe, the judge did not have a problem of field trips to religious venues as long as their purpose is not religious. In this case, however, the permission slips sent home with students came from Victory Ministries and not from North Middle School and authorized Victory employees to proselytize students and allowed Victory to use the students photos in promotional materials.
Former Superintendent C. J. Huff was warned by an attorney for the American Humanist Association that legal actiou would be taken, but did not take the threat seriously, despite the organization's reputation for filing lawsuits. Huff admitted the permission slip was poorly done and said it would be done better the next year.
Victory officials offered to send a different permission slip, but Huff chose not to do so:
From Judge Harpool's decision:
The) Court also considered that the Defendants had every opportunity to avoid this lawsuit. Defendants were put on notice far in advance of this litigation of the issues raised by Plaintiffs, but failed to proactively address or eliminate the problem with the consent and waiver form. The Court finds it unfortunate that in this case the taxpayers’ dollars will be used to pay for the Defendants’ failure to identify and correct this legal issue without the cost and expense of litigation.
Doe asked for only $1.