Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Free Speech Isn’t Free

Not being a lawyer I can’t figure out the rightness of this ruling, but there it is.

Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq and whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters say a court has ordered him to pay the protesters’ appeal costs.

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.

“We are extremely disappointed,” said Sean E. Summers, an attorney for Snyder. He added that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely hear the case during its October term and make a decision in June of next year.

“The Court of Appeals certainly could have waited until the Supreme Court made its decision,” Summers added. “There was no hardship presented by Phelps.”

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.”

I get it that Phelps, being the defendant in the suit, has the right — somehow — to demand that his legal costs for the appeal be covered by the plaintiff. It’s one of those things that makes our justice system so maddening… and ultimately blind.

If you wish to contribute to the legal fund for Mr. Snyder, go here.

HT to Steve M.