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Father must pay Westboro Baptist Church $16,500

Lawyers for the father of a Marine who died in Iraq and whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters say a court has ordered him to pay the protesters' appeal costs.

Picketing in Topeka, 2005Image via Wikipedia

On Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Albert Snyder of York, Pa., pay costs associated with Fred Phelps' appeal. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which held a protest at the funeral of Snyder's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster in 2006.

Lawyers for Snyder say the Court of Appeals has ordered him to pay $16,510.80 to Phelps for costs relating to the appeal, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Court of Appeals' decision.

The lawyers say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Sean E. Summers, an attorney for Snyder. He added that the high court will likely hear the case during its October term and make a decision in June of next year.

"The Court of Appeals certainly could have waited until the Supreme Court made its decision," Summers added. "There was no hardship presented by Phelps."

Summers said there is no timetable for when the costs must be paid, but if his client doesn't have the money when Phelps requests payment, the matter would go into collections. Snyder could lose his property or his wages, Summers said.

Snyder's lawyer added that if Snyder pays Phelps' court costs and then receives a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, "imagine him trying to get money back from Phelps."

The high court agreed earlier this month to consider whether the protesters' message is protected by the First Amendment or limited by the competing privacy and religious rights of the mourners.

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Church members are seeking to recoup costs from federal appeals court, which dismissed Snyder's lawsuit against them. Snyder's lawyer, Sean Summers, said the court declared last week that Snyder was responsible for the costs.

Efforts to reach an official from Westboro Baptist Church were unsuccessful Monday.

Such mandated reimbursements are common after appellate court cases, Summers said.

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears Snyder's case in the fall, its decision will ultimately make a big difference as to whether or not Snyder can eventually recoup that money, Summers said.

"It's rubbing salt in an open wound," Summers said.

The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps, preaches an anti-homosexual message. Members maintain that combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are God's retribution for America's tolerance of gay men and lesbian women.

Church members have promoted that agenda with a series of intentionally provocative demonstrations outside funerals of servicemen and women who were killed in combat, during which they chant and hold signs bearing messages such as "Thank God For Dead Soldiers."

Church members staged such a protest outside the funeral for Snyder's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster, Md. Snyder's son was killed in Iraq in 2006 when his Humvee overturned.

Snyder sued the protesters, and a Baltimore jury awarded him $5 million in damages for invasion of privacy and emotional distress. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision on First Amendment grounds in September 2009.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Philadelphia lawyer Howard Bashman, an expert in appellate law, said that the loser in appellate court cases typically compensate the winner for court costs. Those costs tend to be higher when the plaintiffs win, because they must supply a complete copy of the original court case.

The winners may decide not to go after that compensation, frequently because the legal costs involved in pursing the funds would be more than the money they could recoup, Bashman said.

FUNDING THE FUNDLocal lawyer Sean Summers said the federal appellate court rejected arguments that Albert Snyder should not be assessed $16,500 in legal fees because he doesn't have the means to pay them.

A fund has been set up to help Snyder pay the court costs. None of the money will go to attorneys, who are representing him pro bono. To contribute, go to www.matthewsnyder.org. Or send a check payable to "Al Snyder Fund" to the following address:

Barley Snyder LLC

100 East Market Street

York, PA 17401


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