DALLAS (AP) — An appeals court on Monday ordered a lower court to recalculate how much a former Texas high school cheerleader should pay in legal fees to the school district that punished for refusing to root for an athlete she said raped her.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the lower court erred in finding that one of the four claims of the former cheerleader — a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech — was frivolous. The court said the fees should be recalculated based on the remaining claims it says were rightly called frivolous.
The former cheerleader had been ordered to pay almost $39,000 in court costs to the Silsbee school district.
The girl had stepped away from her squad, folder her arms and stood in silence when basketball player Rakheem Bolton approached the free-throw line to hit a shot during a 2009 playoff game. She was suspended as a cheerleader but later reinstated. Her family lost their subsequent lawsuit against the school district over the punishment.
The appeals court already affirmed the district court's dismissal of the lawsuit the girl and her parents filed claiming violations of her constitutional rights. In its ruling Monday, the appeals court said that although the girl's speech was not protected because her protest occurred during a school activity, the argument at least had some merit.
The appeals court found no merit, though, with other three claims, which alleged her rights to liberty, property, equal protection and due process were violated.
The girl's attorney, Larry Watts, said it's "outrageous" she has to pay any attorney fees at all. But he predicted the lower court judge will likely decide the girl owes "three-fourths" of the previous amount.
"I don't think it's appropriate, but I won't be surprised if that's what happens," he said.
An attorney for the school district did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Monday.
The girl claims she was pulled into a darkened room with Bolton and several others during an October 2008 party and raped under a pool table while she was drunk. Bolton and two others were arrested after the party. Bolton was later indicted and eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser assault charge in a plea deal. Charges were dropped against the two others.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
The girl's silent protest drew new attention across the nation after she and her parents sued over her punishment in May 2009, lost and were ordered to pay the attorney fees. An online campaign was started to help her family with legal costs.
The girl, now 19, graduated from high school in 2010.
Her father said the appeals court ruling still leaves much up in the air as to how much money the family will owe.
"I don't really know the impact yet," said Craig S., whose last name is being withheld to protect his daughter's identity.
Silsbee, population of about 6,400, is located about 94 miles northeast of Houston.