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February 11, 2012

Court: former VSU president may be found liable

Former student sues in due process case

NAYLOR — he 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decided Tuesday that former Valdosta State University president Ronald Zaccari may be found personally liable for violating the due process rights of former VSU student T. Hayden Barnes.

In 2007, Barnes protested against Zaccari’s plan to spend $30 million of student fee money to construct two parking garages on campus. He posted flyers and sent e-mails to Zaccari, student and faculty bodies and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to propose environmentally friendly alternatives.

Barnes was administratively withdrawn from VSU in May 2007 when Zaccari claimed that Barnes presented a “clear and present danger.” Court records indicate that Zaccari monitored Barnes’ Facebook page and held numerous meetings about the student.

In January 2008, Barnes filed suit in cooperation with First Amendment attorney and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Legal Network member Robert Corn-Revere, which worked the case pro-bono.

David Will, attorney for Zaccari, stated that his defendant made his decision “in light of Virginia Tech” shootings.

“Essentially what is left is the claim that Barnes was denied procedural process,” said Will. “When Dr. Zaccari was president and he was presented with this situation, he viewed his role as protecting the safety of the university and the campus community.”

Barnes, who is currently in his second year at Baltimore School of Law, said he wants the opportunity to set the record straight along with compensation for emotional and financial hardships acquired during his educational career.

“I simply don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he said. “Without FIRE and my local council, without any of them, it would have continued unanswered and this injustice could have happened to someone else.”

Will Creely, director of legal and public advocacy at FIRE, said the case is still “at a relatively early stage,” and Zaccari can appeal the decision by the 11th Circuit.

According to Creely, Barnes also sued the Georgia Board of Regents for breach of contract which was denied in the 11th Circuit on Tuesday. A settlement is not currently being pursued by Zaccari’s defense team, Will said.

“There was not a lot of case law ahead of time in the abstract. Zaccari understands the constitutional principles, but there wasn’t a finite guiding principal that said he was supposed to do this,” said Will. “Although Dr. Zaccari hopes that it would not be at his expense, he does hope that there is guidance for other university administrators.”

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