$243,000 Fee Award in Texas Holster Protest

10/18/2010 6:29:00 AM, David Lee

     FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) - A federal judge ordered Tarrant County College to pay more than $243,000 in attorneys' fees and expenses in a lawsuit brought by students who challenged the school's ban on wearing empty gun holsters. Students wore the holsters to protest the college's barring concealed weapons on campus.

     U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means ordered recovery of $236,329 in attorneys' fees, with $88,500 going to attorney David Broiles, $62,379 to the ACLU, and $85,450 for Kirkley & Berryman.
     Judge Means also ordered recovery of $7,114 in expenses, with $1,016.77 for the ACLU and $6,097.23 to Kirkley & Berryman.
     Students Clayton Smith and John Schwertz sued the school in November 2009, demanding the right to wear empty holsters at the TCC Northeast campus in Hurst, at a protest planned by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.
     The group objected to state law and school policies that forbid students from carrying concealed handguns on campus. Their protest was to entail wearing the holsters and passing out leaflets, among other things.
     The students objected to the school's demand to confine their protest to a designated free-speech zone in front of the library, and to ban the passing out of leaflets and imposition of a permit system.
     Soon after the suit was filed, Judge Means granted in part a temporary restraining order. He ruled that the students and other TCC students could wear the empty holsters at the protest, wear shirts depicting empty holsters, discuss handgun regulation, and distribute literature on handgun regulation in traditional public forums on campus, including public streets, sidewalks and common areas.
      "However, to the extent that Smith and Schwertz seek to wear empty holsters inside of Tarrant County College District classrooms and their adjacent hallways, their motion is denied," Means wrote at the time.
     In response to the temporary restraining order and the subsequent denial of the school's motions to dismiss, TCC revised its policies and did away with the permit system and the free-speech zone.
     The plaintiffs responded by filing an amended complaint alleging that even with the revisions, the school's policies infringed on their First Amendment rights, violated state law and the school's own internal procedures.
     After a three-day trial in January, Means ruled the school's "disruptive activities" provision that banned wearing empty holsters on campus and passing out leaflets in class and in hallways was unconstitutional.
     Means also found the school's "cosponsorship provision," which prohibited students from engaging in speech on campus that was cosponsored by a nonstudent or off-campus organization, in this case the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, was overly broad and unconstitutional.
     According to attorney William Creely of the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education, TCC joins the University of Wyoming and Georgia Tech as schools that have recently engaged in costly litigation regarding similar claims.
     Wyoming spent $86,000 trying to ban activist Bill Ayers from its campus and Georgia Tech spent $203,714 on attorneys' fees regarding freedom of religion claims by students. Attachment