Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Phelps / Westboro Litigation Updates

KipEsquire has an update on the Phelps/Westboro Litigation.

This case is important because all of us fair minded people (I hope), while detesting everything for which the Phelps clan stand, also support the right of bigots to be, well, bigots.

We cannot sit back and ignore the despicable hatred of this man and his church, but at the same time, we must diligently defend our precious freedoms of speech and assembly.

At issue is whether their freedom of speech trumps the right of the family's privacy and right to be free of intimidation.

It is not a simple First Amendment case, and it appears the courts are working through the issues with the proper focus on the balance of the competing interests.

--A federal judge reduced the punitive damages award against Westboro and the Phelps from $8 million to $2.1 million, based on Maryland precedent and recent Supreme Court guidance regarding punitive damages (see, e.g., BMW v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996)). Bottom line: Westboro and the Phelps are apparently too poor to come up with $8 million, so the damages were reduced to a level that is punitive but not oppressive. The reduction is completely unrelated to the nature of underlying torts or the facts of the case.

--The judge upheld the verdict itself (i.e., a reasonable jury could have found the invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress claims meritorious).

More here.

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