Appeal in Westboro case declined

Supreme Court decides not to intervene in multimillion-dollar suit against Kan. church

Baltimore Sun/February 23, 2008

The Supreme Court has declined to intervene on behalf of a Kansas-based anti-gay church that was successfully sued for protesting at a Marine's funeral in Westminster, a lawyer in the case announced yesterday.

The news from Sean E. Summers, the plaintiff's attorney, came as a federal judge in Baltimore ordered Westboro Baptist Church to provide additional financial documents to determine how much of a bond church members need to post while they appeal the multimillion-dollar verdict against them.

The church members asked the Supreme Court for relief in the case, but they also appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is still pending.

This month, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett substantially reduced the amount of damages that Westboro and three of its leading members - founder Fred W. Phelps Sr. and his daughters, Rebecca Phelps-Davis and Shirley Phelps-Roper - must pay for their demonstration at the funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.

Bennett affirmed the jury's verdict in favor of Snyder's father, who sued the church for emotional distress and invasion of his family's privacy after Westboro Baptist Church members waved signs decrying homosexuality at his son's funeral in March 2006.

But the judge also reduced the $10.9 million award announced in October to $5 million, noting constitutional concerns of appropriateness. He held up the jury's compensatory damage award of $2.9 million but reduced the total punitive damages to $2.1 million.

On March 6, Bennett, the trial judge, is scheduled to hold a court hearing to decide how much of a bond the church and its members will have to post while the appeal continues. Church members have argued that they should not be required to post a bond during the appeals process.

Lawyers for Snyder have questioned the truthfulness of church members and their reported finances.

In an order dated Thursday, Bennett told church members to bring to court a certified financial statement prepared by an independent accountant, bank statements and copies of deeds to the property they own.

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