A former Valdosta State University student whose due process rights were violated in his 2007 expulsion has won $50,000 in compensatory damages, according to a judgment filed Monday. A federal jury ruled in favor of Hayden Barnes on Friday, after several years of legal battle.
The university’s former president, Ronald Zaccari, who expelled Barnes, was found “personally liable” for the damages, according to court records. The jury did not award punitive damages, but the award means Barnes will be able to ask for Zaccari to pay his attorney’s fees in addition to the actual damages.
Barnes had been actively protesting a university parking garage project through emails with campus officials, flyers, a letter to the editor sent to the school’s student newspaper and a collage he posted on Facebook. He was not allowed a hearing before being expelled.
Bob Corn-Revere, Barnes’ attorney, said the case sends a message to school officials in general.
“This case places administrators on notice that they are not above the law and that if they violate students’ constitutional rights they may be personally liable for it,” Corn-Revere said.
Though the case has gone on for years, Corn-Revere said time was no deterrent in pursuing justice.
“It was a gross abuse of power, it was always about the president’s dislike of Mr. Barnes’ speech and his efforts to punish him for disagreeing with him and I don’t know that there’s really a statute of limitations on that kind of abusive bullying,” Corn-Revere said.
David Will, Zaccari’s lawyer, said the former president had tried to make the best decision for Barnes and the campus in light of the Virginia Tech shooting, which occurred the month before Barnes was expelled.
Will said he “did not think the evidence established or proved that [Barnes] was damaged.”
It is not yet known whether the judgment will be appealed.