Dead Marine’s dad ordered to pay protesters’ court costs

By FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: March 30, 2010

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters has been ordered to pay the protesters’ appeal costs, his lawyers said Monday.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., ordered Albert Snyder to pay $16,510 to Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. The group has picketed numerous soldiers’ funerals since 2001, including Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder’s funeral in 2006, using anti-gay and anti-military signs and slogans.

Snyder successfully sued the group in 2007, and a Baltimore jury awarded him $5 million in damages for invasion of privacy and emotional distress. The appeals court overturned that decision last fall.

The Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the protesters’ message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners. Those arguments are expected to take place this fall.

However, attorneys for Snyder told The Baltimore Sun that the appeal costs must be paid to Phelps before then, whenever Phelps requests them. If Snyder doesn’t have the money available, the matter will go into collections and Snyder could lose his property or wages.

“The Court of Appeals certainly could have waited until the Supreme Court made its decision,” Sean E. Summers, an attorney for Snyder, told the Sun. “There was no hardship presented by Phelps.”

The two-page decision by the Fourth Circuit Court offered no details on how the court came to its decision. Attorneys also said Snyder is struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Snyder has set up a fund to pay the court costs, accessible through www.matthewsnyder.org.

On Tuesday officials at the American Legion announced they would also collect donations through their http://burnpit.
legion.org site to help pay for both the court-ordered appeal costs and the Supreme Court appeal.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble raising the money,” said Mark Seavey, assistant legislative director for the American Legion. “We already heard from members interested in donating.”

The veterans organization also plans on filing an amicus brief supporting Snyder in the Supreme Court case.

Stars and Stripes’ reporter Leo Shane contributed to this story.

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