The freedom-of-speech case involving a former VSU student and president reached a new stage last week as an appeals court ruled that VSU’s former president could be found liable for taking away the student’s rights to due process.
“This landmark ruling from the Eleventh Circuit leaves no doubt that university administrators who choose to ignore the due process rights of their students do so at their peril,” said Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff in a press release.
In 2007, student Hayden Barnes was expelled from VSU by former president Dr. Ronald Zaccari after Barnes attempted to protest Dr. Zaccari’s plans for the two parking decks, Sustella Ave. & Oak Street parking decks.
Believed there was an environmental threat to the $30-million parking project, Barnes created and posted an art collage with a portrait of Dr. Zaccari titled “S.A.V.E.—Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage.”
Dr. Zaccari labeled Barnes as a “clear and present danger” to VSU and to the former president and expelled the student.
In response, Barnes promptly sued Dr. Zaccari, claiming he deserved his due process before receiving his punishment.
Since then, the case has gone through many phases in court.
“This has been a long, drawn-out case,” said David Will, attorney with Royal-Will Law Firms for Dr. Zaccari.
Will goes further on to say, the issue of Barnes’ due process was one not yet resolved in Georgia.
It had yet to be seen if a college student could have due process for a pre-deprivation hearing.
“Dr. Zaccari relied on the Board of Regents,” Will said. “They told him to do what he could to protect the university from threats… And he did.”
The court of appeals also ruled on Feb. 8 that Dr. Zaccari could not sue the Board of Regents in a federal court based on the 11th Amendment.
“I know that the former VSU president, Zaccari, and his legal team are looking at their options… The whole Eleventh Circuit could hear the case if they choose to try to appeal. If not, it will go on to the federal court,” Will Creeley, director of FIRE’s Legal and Public Advocacy said.
Creeley has been working to speak out against university administrations who have wronged students their right to due process, as Barnes was denied.
“We are advocating on Barnes’ behalf,” Creeley said. “We will continue to watch the case with great interest, but we do not represent Barnes–his legal attorney will do that.”
“Hayden’s [case] is one of the worst we have ever seen,” Creeley said.
“We get hundreds of case submissions ever year–our case archives are overflowing.”
In response to what Barnes and his legal team have in store, Bob Corn-Revere, attorney for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Barnes’ legal attorney, said they are still considering what their next step will be, but they are considering this a win already.
Clarification: The print headline for this story should have read “Former president may be found liable in Barnes vs. Zaccari.”