Kentucky man gets empty win in court from Ku Klux Klan

Jury awards huge judgment, but he's unlikely to see much

Associated Press/March 23, 2012

Winning a million-dollar judgment against a former leader of a Kentucky-based Ku Klux Klan group might have been the easy part for Jordan Gruver, a Latino man who sued after he was beaten at a county fair in 2006. Collecting the money could prove to be impossible.

"It's one thing to have a judgment," Theresa Radwan, a professor of bankruptcy law at Stetson Law School in Gulfport, Fla., said Friday. "It's another to have money in hand."

A jury awarded Gruver $2.5 million in 2008 in a judgment against Ron Edwards, former grand wizard of the Imperial Klans of America in Dawson Springs, and another former Klan member. Edwards was responsible for $1.3 million. The other Klan member settled out of court with Gruver.

Kyle Burden is the attorney for Edwards. Burden said Gruver and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented him, won't be able to collect anything because his client has no assets.

Richard Cohen, the Southern Poverty Law Center's president and one of Gruver's attorneys, said he plans to try anyway.

"Whatever we ultimately get from Mr. Edwards … will only be a small fraction of the verdict," Cohen said. "I think his earning potential is low."

Gruver was cleared to pursue the assets after the Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday ended four years of litigation and declined to hear Edwards' appeal. The decision effectively ends the legal fight brought by Gruver and the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Ala., to make Edwards pay for encouraging followers to attack minorities at public events.

Edwards, 52, is serving a four-year sentence on gun and drug charges at the federal correctional institute in Beckley, W.Va. The federal Bureau of Prisons projects his release date as Jan. 1, 2015. Emails sent to the listed address for the Imperial Klans of America were twice returned as undeliverable.

The case started when a group of four white supremacists tied to the Klan group attacked Gruver at a fair in Meade County in July 2006. At that time, the Imperial Klans of America boasted it had 16 chapters in eight states and five in foreign countries.

Gruver was a teenager at the time of the attack. The beating resulted in a broken jaw, permanent damage to his left arm and emotional trauma.

Since the 2008 verdict, the group has shrunk, publicly banning members and being shunned by other white supremacist organizations.

"There's not much left to them," Cohen said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks groups such as the Klan, has a history of pursuing cases against race-based organizations around the country.

The group has pursued payment on a $12.4 million verdict against the Oregon-based White Aryan Resistance and the group's leader, Thomas L. Metzger, since 1990. A jury held Metzger and the group responsible for the murder of Mulugeta Seraw in 1989.

Property liens and wage garnishments are the usual ways someone can collect on a judgment, said Radwan, the law professor. Frequently, with larger judgments, the defendant will go bankrupt or is virtually "judgment-proof" because of a lack of assets, Radwan said.

Either way, collecting becomes much more difficult, she said.

"The challenge is, if there is nothing, how much money do you spend going after nothing?" Radwan said.

Cohen said his group will use the legal resources available, including tracking Edwards' future earnings.

"We take collection seriously," Cohen said. "But that could take some time."

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