A Mixed Victory in the Texas Cheerleader Rape Case

The Texas cheerleader who sued her high school for forcing her to cheer for her rapist will not have to pay the school’s entire $35,000 in legal fees, according to a decision yesterday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This decision overturns a lower court ruling that deemed the case “frivolous” and required the family to pay the school’s legal bills.

Hillaire’s case drew attention last year when the nation learned that Silsbee High School had kicked her off the squad for refusing to cheer for Rakheem Bolton, a man who would later plead guilty to assaulting her. (I have reported extensively on the case for the Ms. Blog–see here, here and here). The family’s unsuccessful lawsuit against the school for violating Hillaire’s First Amendment free speech rights ended when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case last May.

A Change.org campaign garnered more than 140,000 signatures in protest of Hillaire being required to pay the school’s legal fees. Activists have raised some money to cover the legal fees and started a campaign encouraging people to mail pennies to the Silsbee school district.

According to the family’s attorney, Larry Watts, this was only a partial victory.

I initially thought it was a major victory that the court said that it was arguable that HS had a First Amendment Right to remain silent, but there were four issues in the case, and they fouled my client on three of four points.

The four constitutional issues in question are:

  1. Free Speech: Hillaire’s right to remain silent
  2. Equal Protection: Watts says: “She was removed from the team for being silent, while the school district, which had every right and power to investigate his assault and threats of murder, did not remove him. It’s simple–a girl being treated differently than a boy.”
  3. Due Process: The suit alleges that the school didn’t uphold the cheerleading “contract”
  4. Due Process: The suit alleges that Hillaire’s “significant emotional harm, caused by the physical injury of rape, was exacerbated by the school.”

The appeals court ruling still finds the equal protection and two due process concerns to be “frivolous,” which means Hillaire and her family have to pay fees associated with those aspects of the case. The school district will recalculate the costs.

According to Watts,“The court ruled in HS’s favor for the one issue that America paid a lot of attention to and got very upset about. But they upheld the ruling that the other three claims were frivolous.”

If Watts is right, then public attention to and action around this case successfully influenced the courts to rule in a just manner, and sustained attention to the case is needed. Watts plans to appeal.

“On a personal level, we lost every single battle. Every single one,” Hillaire’s father Craig expressed the family’s dissappointment, “On a public note, we won some battles, but it’s a bittersweet victory because it makes it better for victims in the future, but it cost your loved ones in the process.”

In other news related to this case, Silsbee Bee editor Gerry Dickert resigned in July to take a new position with at Lamar State College. Dickert drew criticism for his coverage of the Silsbee rape case, although it’s unclear whether this played a role in his decision to leave the paper.

Photo from Flickr user Katrina.Tuliao under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Good reading as always. Any victory is a victory and can be used to build the foundation for future victories. True – this litigation has cost the family alot of money. Just another day at the park in the world of the judicial system. It is frequently tilted in favor of the perp. FYI – David Lisenby has also resigned from the Bee and has taken refuge with the Hardin County News. You can contact him on FB. I am grateful for Mr. Watts whose bull dog antics have helped create a sense of justice however bitter sweet. My prayers for the family. Any protest regarding this case please keep us informed – Ms. C!

    • THIS IS A DISGRACE sHAME ON THE SCHOOL. THE DA THE GRAND JURY FOR NOT CONVICTING THESE FAVORED ATHLETES. We have Texas Crime Victims laws and Victims Bill of Rights in place that should have brought Justice to this Silbee Cheerleader… The school made a mockery of her and should be punished for lack of protection and prosecution for the victims. The DA’s Job is to get the offendes off the street and protect the Victim. This did not happen in Silsbee Texas Shame on you School Supertindent, principle coaches, Law Enforcement and Da… Grand Jury Shame on you !!!! The Law is the Law Rape is Rape !! What is wrong with you Grand Jury ? By Texas laws in Effect Sept 2007 (HB 68) Jessica’s Law. the offenders should be serving at least 25 years in Prison and be required to be registered Sex Offenderds the rest of their Life. !!! I am as I speak talking to mny Sentor in Austin to get him to introduce and get passed a bill that would prosecute anyone to protects the offenders and prevents Justice being done for the Victim and protects and prevents the Sex Offenders to being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law. Anyone who has been denied Justice and Fair Prosecution of their Sex Offendes I want to hear from if you are in Texas !!! Enough is Enough… God Bless you alll BLess you babgurls who ahve been denied Justice >> I am a MAD Mad Tired of this Nonsense and Injustice being done to these Texas girls.

      Mamaw Cathy

  2. Question: was the rapist punished in any way? (What a mockery of justice if he wasn’t! Just another day in the life of a secon-class citizen: a woman.)

  3. Thats pathetic, to a serious rape victims case,.. yes!.. I was a Rape victim, i went to local police where I was held against my will and the officer made sexual lude comments of what he wanted to do to me, I screamed and screamed and my fiance’ could not get in, for he was locked out, I talked with the Detective, who said he would be reprimanded and they would pick up my rapist, yet he Never took ant written statement from me, but did take my clothes, The assistant district attorney closed this case, when I asked why she said because she could! I contacted attorney general, newspapers, congressman merle phillips, after which they conspired to cover up there mess, because I wasn’t letting it go! So they arrested me at gun point for no reason in my night gown, and at the door of the prison, the chief of police said to me! ” I will Arrest you as many times as it takes, for you to keep your mouth shut about this RAPE!” 36 days I was bullied and belittled, not even knowing why I was there! Except, The Police had committed a crime, they wanted covered and I wasn’t backing down, so they would use force! that force, caused me so much horrible trauma, I can’t even begin, i moved twice, was hospitalized so many times for seizures and post trauma seizures, i don’t go outside, I don’t believe in anyone anymore! my life is simply defense mode! I never got Justice! And I still continue to try and Think God will turn this around for me, God has saved me in many ways from this ordeal, yet The law has yet to prevail true Justice! Please help me!

    • Feminist Metalhead says:

      Your story is truly heartbreaking. :( My deepest sorrows go out to you and may your soul heal from the abuse in the name of “justice”. I sincerely wish you the best, you can contact me at eternal_priestess@hotmail.ca if you want to.

    • Your story is very sad, and I sincerely hope that you get the justice you deserve. However- as a victim yourself- calling cases other than yours “frivolous” and implying that it isn’t serious as your personal story is just as warped thinking as those of the people who dismiss rape victims such as yourself and the girl in this article. By saying such things, you are doing yourself a disservice. Rape is rape and the emotional trauma- which might seem “frivolous” to you- is more than likely extremely difficult for this girl. So please have more respect.

  4. I stumbled on this story after researching sexual assualt cases involving juveniles. It saddens me to say that I am not surprised at how Hillarie has been treated. My 14 year old daughter was assualted on school grounds almost a year ago and has been victimized by the justice system and the school district. Her attacker plead guilty to assualt and battery first degree and was sentenced to probation for the end of the school year. Oh yes, he also must receive “counseling.” At the sentencing the judge commended him for his good grades and for having his parents at court. The recommendation from the state evaluation center conducted by psychiatrists and psychologists and DJJ was for this criminal was to receive out of home placement and probation. The specific placement was at a group home for sexual offenders. The judge ignored the recommendation and sent this violent attacker home where there is no none counseling for sexual offenders for his age. Not only that, but he is at the only high school in the area with my daughter. She has to see him daily. The local school district socially promoted him so they are in the same grade and same school. Our recent request to the school district based on their policies to have this criminal moved to the alternative school has been met with hostility. So I am not surprised, the judge in this case sent a clear message to victims that it is better to not report sexual assaults. I have never heard of a victim having to see her attacker on a daily basis. Good luck to Hillarie.

  5. james v rude says:

    is there any possibility of a civil suit or something else? legislation? is there a group? links? anything… i will do a fb search i suppose… happy to ‘like’ a page… guess ever since ‘heroes’ I feel it is: ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’

    it feels like this is more relevant than ever

  6. Who appointed the stupidity to the school board and court? Don’t use Facebook. They would be up there cheering this poor girl’s victimization. Being as how they refuse to remove pages labeled “humor” and “satire” even if they promote violence against women.

    • Anonymous says:

      Whelp, people have the right to say what they want and really, that right is one of the most important ones we have. If you think they’re wrong then by all means say so, feel free to argue the subject with them but don’t engage in censorship. Promoting censorship is counter productive to equality in the long run.

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