The Supreme Court Monday refused to free five anti-abortion demonstrators from paying nearly $100,000 in legal fees to an abortion clinic they targeted.
The action, taken without comment in a case from Sacramento, Calif., marked the first time the justices considered the issue of lawyer-fee awards in abortion-linked litigation. "That the court would let this $100,000 penalty stand is outrageous and sends a very chilling message to pro-life demonstrators," said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer with the anti-abortion American Center for Law and Justice.
The justices let stand rulings that said the lawyer-fees award against the abortion protesters did not violate or wrongly "chill" their free-speech rights.
The Feminist Women's Health Center operates four medical clinics in Northern California, including one in Sacramento. Anti-abortion demonstrations took place there for a year before y the center's operators sued the demonstrators in 1989. The suit named as defendants anti-abortion activists Theresa Reali, Murray Lewis, John Stoos, Jay Baggett and Don Blythe, Operation Rescue and others.
The suit sought to bar the demonstrators from taking certain actions and to have them pay all lawyer fees in connection with the litigation.
Operation Rescue and the other defendants did not show up to defend themselves and lost by default. After trial, a state judge ruled against Reali, Lewis, Stoos, Baggett and Blythe.
The judge prohibited picketing within 20 feet of the clinic's entrance and ordered the five defendants to pay $99,106.98 for the legal fees incurred by the clinic's operators. State courts upheld the award.
The court also rejected a student's claim that she was denied her right of free speech when her ninth-grade English teacher gave her a grade of zero for a report about Jesus. The teacher had told the girl to write on another topic.
The girl, Brittney Kaye Settle, now 19, had asked for damages and to have a failing grade on the paper removed from her records at Dickson County Junior High, 35 miles east of Nashville, Tenn.
Appeals to the principal, superintendent and School Board failed. Her 1991 suit was thrown out by a federal judge, and his ruling was upheld by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last May.
The Supreme Court acted without commenting. r
Settle's father, Jerry Settle, said the high court's decision was "consistent with the attitude that Christians are a minority you can treat any way you want to. …