Archive for Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Judge orders school district to pay attorneys fees

December 21, 2005

The Tonganoxie school district suffered another blow last week in an ongoing legal battle over a former student's claims that other students sexually harassed him.

U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum has ordered the district to pay nearly $270,000 in attorneys fees and expenses to the former student. That amount is on top of a $250,000 judgment a federal jury awarded Dylan Theno in August.

The school district has appealed the jury's judgment to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. However, an attorney for the district said Monday that no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling on attorneys fees.

"It's more of a legal evaluation," said Steve Pigg, a Topeka attorney.

The lawsuit centers on Theno's claim that he was bullied in junior high and high school, which forced him to leave school in November of his junior year.

In May 2004, Theno sued the local school district in U.S. District Court, alleging he was called names such as "fag," "faggot," "queer," "flamer" and "masturbator" from his seventh-grade year until he quit school as a junior. The suit also said the harassment denied Theno access to an education in a violation of federal law.

Theno's attorney, Arthur Benson of Kansas City, Mo., originally had asked for $271,772. The judge trimmed that only slightly -- by about $3,000 -- and awarded Theno $268,793 in attorneys fees and expenses. The judge said Benson's rate of $250 an hour was in keeping with what other attorneys would have charged, and the judge noted Benson's expertise.

"This case involved a more unique and developing area of the law, and few attorneys in this area would have had the experience, expertise, tenacity and resources to have obtained a successful verdict in this case," the judge wrote.

''... The court finds that counsel obtained excellent -- indeed, extraordinary -- results for plaintiff. ... Additionally, counsel's presentation of the evidence at trial was outstanding."

The federal appeals process will take several months. The $250,000 jury award continues to collect interest -- at a rate of 3.84 percent -- until the case concludes.

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