Fred Phelps Wins Suit Against Dead Marine’s Dad
A father whose Marine son was killed in Iraq has been ordered to pay the court costs of the men who picketed the funeral.
On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered that Albert Snyder of York, Pa., pay costs associated with Fred Phelps’ appeal. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, which conducted protests at the funeral of Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster in 2006.
Lawyers for Snyder say the Court of Appeals has ordered him to pay $16,510.80 to Phelps for costs relating to the appeal, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Court of Appeals’ decision. They say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Summers said there is no timetable for when the costs must be paid, but if his client doesn’t have the money when Phelps requests payment the matter would go into collections. Snyder could lose his property or his wages, Summers said. Summers added that if Snyder pays Phelps’ court costs and then receives a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, “imagine him trying to get money back from Phelps.”
This is a hard decision to swallow but quite probably the right one legally speaking. As Steve M points out, two of the three judges on the panel were George W. Bush appointees, so this isn’t some liberal court run amok.
John Cole observes, “I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.” And, surely, the right to free speech is meaningless if one has to go into bankruptcy fighting lawsuits from people who don’t like the content.
Recall that, in November 2007, a Baltimore jury entered an $11 million judgment against Phelps in this case. Clearly, the 4th Circuit reversed that judgment.
As I noted at the time, “Given that this was a public place, Phelps and his loathsome horde have a right to assemble and voice their opinions. Still, the jury’s instinct is understandable. Surely, grieving families have a right to bury their dead without being accosted by these vermin.”
As of that writing, “at least 22 states have proposed or enacted laws to limit the rights of protesters at funerals” and Maryland was among them. That strikes me as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on speech that would withstand judicial challenge and, certainly, a better way to handle the situation than families trying to sue protesters.
UPDATE: Doug Mataconis points out that, according to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 39, “the losing party on appeal pays the appeal costs (meaning the filing fees, transcript fees, and printing fees they incurred, NOT their attorneys fees) of the victorious party. The Court really has no discretion in the matter.”