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VALDOSTA — While a jury ruled Friday in federal court that former Valdosta State University President, Dr. Ronald M. Zaccari, should not be punished for the 2007 expulsion of Hayden Barnes, jurors determined that Barnes deserved $50,000 in recompense after the former-paramedic and activist was administratively withdrawn from the university for protesting the construction of the campus’ Oak Street parking decks.
“We feel vindicated,” said Barnes as he headed out of the court room with his wife and mother at his flanks. Zaccari broke away from hugs and handshakes long enough to decline to comment, but his lawyer, David Will, spoke on the defendant’s behalf.
“The jury has spoken,” said Will. “It’s been a difficult case for everyone involved and it’s been going on for about 6 years. So hopefully now everyone can move on.”
Barnes and Zaccari had been sparring over the newly approved parking deck around April of 2007, though the former student had already been posting flyers around campus in protest of what he believed to be a misappropriation of $30 million. Barnes had lobbied for “greener” transportation solutions that would save money and wouldn’t encourage students to drive more, but a series of e-mails and a political cartoon brought things to a head.
Perceiving Barnes’ drawing of the “Zaccari P Memorial” as a threat, drafted around the time of the Virginia Tech shooting, a series of administrative meetings were held to determine if Barnes was indeed a threat to campus security.
The university’s police chief could find nothing that would paint the young paramedic as a threat to others and several administrators shared the chief’s opinion, but Barnes was still expelled at the end of the Spring 2007 semester. Notification of Barnes’ dismissal and two-day window to vacate was slipped under his dorm-room door.
“We’re grateful the jury saw the expulsion in 2007 was not just wrong, but it damaged Hayden Barnes,” said Barnes’ attorney Robert Corn-Revere. “The verdict provided Hayden with enough to move on.”
The jury determined that Barnes was indeed damaged by the 2007 dismissal and they confirmed that Zaccari used legal measures to remove Barnes from the university, but the question of whether or not a reasonable person would have taken the former VSU president’s course of action is still to be determined.
The defense has until Feb. 21 to file a brief on why Zaccari qualifies for “qualified immunity” and why he should not cover the $50,000 remuneration of Barnes’ lost wages and hardships that resulted from his expulsion form VSU. Barnes’ legal team has 10 days to file a response to the defense’s filed brief.
Federal Judge Hugh Lawson thanked both sides for a hard-fought, professional debate.