Important news in Hayden Barnes’ federal civil rights lawsuit, the ongoing FIRE case involving the university president who expelled a student for a critical collage. On Wednesday, the trial judge granted former Valdosta State University President Ronald Zaccari’s motion to transfer the case to a different United States District Court in Georgia. Today, the new judge declared (PDF) that the case is ready for trial and set the case on the October 2012 trial calendar.
Just to remind you about the details: this is the case where former Valdosta State University student Hayden Barnes protested President Ronald Zaccari’s plans to construct two parking garages on campus. In addition to posting flyers and emailing Zaccari, students, faculty, and the Board of Regents, Barnes posted a collage (PDF) on his Facebook mocking Zaccari’s plans. Citing this collage, Zaccari—whose shaky allegiance to the First Amendment was already demonstrated by Valdosta State’s outrageously restrictive (and since dismantled) "free speech zone"—unilaterally kicked Barnes out of school, trampling the First Amendment and Barnes’ own due process rights in a shocking attempt to silence a critical voice.
With FIRE’s help, Barnes filed a federal lawsuit against Zaccari, members of his administration, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. In February, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a unanimous ruling that Zaccari could be held personally liable for his flagrant violation of Barnes’ due process rights. The October trial may prove to be the culmination of a long, important effort by Barnes and FIRE to hold Zaccari accountable for his legacy of contempt for the rights of students. The case’s progress thus far should serve as a clear warning to public university administrators everywhere that the First Amendment’s protections do not stop at the college gates, and there are legal consequences for retaliating against students exercising their rights.
For anybody interested in a more detailed chronology of the events in this case, please check out FIRE’s page on the case.