Both sides are touting victory following the trial between former VSU president Dr. Ronald Zaccari and former VSU student Hayden Barnes.
A federal jury in Atlanta ruled that Dr. Zaccari violated Barnes’ rights to due process. The court decided that Dr. Zaccari must pay $50,000 with a 15-percent annual interest increase in addition to all court fees.
“I am pleased with the outcome of the trial,” Barnes said. “It is a victory not only for me but for students everywhere.”
David Wills, Dr. Zaccari’s lawyer, said that the ruling was actually in favor of the defendant.
He said that it is more likely that Barnes and his council were the ones to come out disappointed in this case.
“I think that if you look into the outcome and the verdict of the jury they found that I was justified in what happened 5 and a half years ago,” Dr. Zaccari said.
Robert Corn-Revere, Barnes’s lawyer, responded saying that Dr. Zaccari is “delusional.”
Dr. Zaccari declined any further comment.
Wills said that he did not know if Dr. Zaccari intended to appeal the verdict.
The issue began with a disagreement between Barnes and Dr. Zaccari over the construction of Sustella and Oak parking decks in 2007. The project was slated for $30-million, and had caused Barnes to worry about the environmental impact it would have.
Barnes responded to the project by writing a letter to the editor concerning the upcoming project.
He then proceeded to print pamphlets and petition against construction of the lots.
Among the material Barnes made to encourage popular disapproval of the parking decks, was a collage made in Microsoft Paint showing a series of photos from the construction site. Barnes named it the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage.”
Barnes consequently received a note under his door explaining that he had 48-hours to leave campus.
Dr. Zaccari had expelled Barnes, saying that he posed a “clear and present danger” to himself and others.
Wills said that this decision had been affected by the recent Virginia Tech. shooting.
On April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech. senior Seung-Hui Chow shot and killed 32 students, injuring 17 others.
Chow later committed suicide after committing, at that time, the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Dr. Zaccari found out that Barnes had been attending counseling sessions at VSU’s Access Office.
He used this information as evidence for what he believed was an unstable and dangerous personality.
Wills said that Dr. Zaccari’s behavior was prompted by a recent string of prank phone-calls, an incident where his home alarm was tripped, Barnes’ use of the phrase “adverse tactics” in an email and his fear of a Virginia Tech. style shooting.
Barnes denied involvement in the prank calls and the alarm incident.
Barnes enlisted the help of Robert Corn-Revere, a famous first amendment lawyer, who filed suit in Jan. 2008.
The Board of Regents decided to extend to Barnes the offer of allowing him to return to VSU, providing he pass an examination by a non-connected psychiatrist.
Barnes refused the offer. He had already decided to continue education at Kennesaw State University.
Dr. Zaccari later retired from his position at VSU.
In Sept. 2010 the District Court handed down a decision that held Dr. Zaccari personally responsible for a violating Barnes’ right to due process.
Several court cases followed resulting in the most recent, Feb. 4, trial where Dr. Zaccari was again declared personally responsible for all damages to Barnes.
VSU, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and all other defendants were excused of blame by the court, leaving Dr. Zaccari to face full responsibility for the treatment of Barnes.
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, expressed skepticism that Dr. Zaccari acted alone.
“FIRE was writing the university for months saying, you violate clearly established constitutional law and you really need to undo this,” Lukianoff said. “And nothing happened until Bob Corn-Revere filed suit.”
Lukianoff did agree that Dr. Zaccari was the person most responsible for the mishandling of Barnes.
The charge against Dr. Zaccari that has been the most discussed is the accusation that he denied due process to Barnes.
Wills said that Barnes was actually provided due process, citing the student’s right to appeal his expulsion.
“What process is due depends on circumstance,” Wills said.
He clarified, saying that because of the nature of the accusations against Barnes, the measures taken by Dr. Zaccari were justified.
Due process is promised to all citizens by the fifth and 14th Amendments.
According to the Farlex legal dictionary, this is designed so that it “prohibits all levels of government from arbitrarily or unfairly depriving individuals of their basic constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.”
“Definitely we see gross violations of student rights all the time, but the violations against Hayden Barnes were really in a classification all by themselves,” Lukainoff said. “I mean, there are other cases that I have seen that had gross due process violations and gross free speech violations, but particularly the tenacity with which [former] president Zaccari [used] is really quite stunning, particularly in the face of everything that came out in discovery.”
“Public universities exist as communities for the free and open exchange of ideas,” Dr. William J. Mckinney, VSU president, said. “[VSU] respects the civil liberties of all its community members, even when disagreements arise in the midst of those exchanges.”
“[VSU] embraces the opportunity for open dialogue and discussion,” Dr. Russell Mast, vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, said. “A college campus is the perfect avenue for students, faculty and staff to appreciate and respect difference of opinions and ideas.”