Precinct 333

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why Is This Case Still Continuing?

Two high school cheerleaders have a couple of drinks before the game. Their peers object, and insist that they won’t compromise their safety or the squad by performing with drunk classmates. The girls are suspended from school and tossed from the team. Seems pretty straightforward to me. Why is it still in litigation, three years later?

What began as an accusation of cheerleaders drinking vodka before a Wentzville Holt High School football game has ended up costing taxpayers more than $400,000, and the legal tab is expected to go higher.

The Missouri United School Insurance Council has had to pay $371,697 in legal fees and $53,899 in costs defending the suit. And despite a federal court's rejection of the cheerleaders' claims, the legal wrangling may be far from finished. A lawsuit filed on behalf of former cheerleaders Lauren Schwaigert and Rachel Jennings and two other girls remains unresolved in state courts.

The tab is approaching a half-million dollars for the school district? Why has the judge let this case go on?

The saga began with a football game on Aug. 30, 2002. According to court documents, Rachel Jennings and Lauren Schwaigert, then 17 and 16 respectively, drank vodka at a friend's house before performing as cheerleaders at the game. A third cheerleader also was said to have been drinking.

Later that night, some members of the cheerleading squad told Diane Moran, the squad's coach, that they were quitting because they couldn't cheer with the girls who had been drinking. Moran brought the squad together for a meeting that lasted until about 2:30 in the morning.

Elizabeth Jennings and Nadine Schwaigert filed suit in federal court in September 2002 on behalf of their daughters. They said the girls were kept at the meeting against their will and berated by other members of the team. They sought $500,000 each in damages.

Meanwhile, the district completed an investigation into the drinking rumors and suspended the girls for 10 days under the student code of conduct.

Moran was removed from her cheerleading duties because of the late-night meeting, but she continued to teach.

The federal court ruled against the girls and their parents last year, and an appellate court upheld that decision last week. The girls and their families were ordered to pay $13,854 in court costs.

Now hold on here. They’ve lost in the district court and on appeal, and they only had to cough up a hair less than $14,000? Why were they not stuck with at least the entire court costs, even if the district and its insurance company couldn’t recover legal fees? I mean, if this wasn’t a frivolous lawsuit, I don’t know what would qualify.

Now they have filed ANOTHER lawsuit over the same incident.

But the case is not over. The two girls were joined by Allyson Justmann, a third cheerleader accused of drinking, and her mother in a suit filed in March in St. Charles County Circuit Court. The Justmanns could not be reached for comment. Lauren Schwaigert's sister Sarah also joined the suit, saying she was subjected to hostile treatment.

In the state court suit, the girls are seeking $100,000 to $500,000 on each of several counts. That case is unresolved.

Sorry, folks, but this matter has already been adjudicated in favor of the district. Res judicata. Hopefully the state judge has heard of that legal concept.

Yeah, sometimes schools mess up, and need to be nailed for their mistakes. But in this case the school really did nothing wrong – and the only school employee who could conceivabley be accused of acting wrongly was the cheerleading sponsor, who was disciplined (for the record, I don’t think she was necessarily that far out of line). Where is the harm to the girls? Where are the damages? I just don’t see them.


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