Laura and Scott Bell took on their school district’s new dress code, but their lawsuit was booted from court after they missed critical deadlines and pressed claims that a judge deemed frivolous.
Four months later, the judge has ordered them to pay up for the trouble.
The Bells now are on the hook for $40,931.50, the amount Anderson Community Schools said its law firm charged for fending off the couple’s lawsuit in July and August. The couple represented themselves in court.
U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder’s decision underlines the risk of wading into legal waters without a lawyer. The danger is higher in litigation, where paying the winning side’s attorney fees is common.
“What in the hell are we supposed to do?” Laura Bell asked, noting that the amount is more than the family’s annual income. “It’s flat ridiculous.”
What you’re supposed to do is STFU and pay the hell up, dumbass. You had a fool for a lawyer, and your lawyer had a fool for a client.
The National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., addresses the issue in its courses for state court judges. William F. Dressel, a former judge and the college’s president, said Tinder gave the Bells fair warning.
“What the judge did is correctly utilize and apply the law,” he said.
Just before Tinder dismissed the case, the Bells asked him to appoint counsel. He declined, in part because “the claims’ chance of success is slim.”
Self-represented litigants in federal court have few resources available to them, said John Floreancig, general counsel for the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, which offers limited legal assistance to Marion County residents.
He wasn’t shocked by the ruling against the Bells.
“Unfortunately, that’s the hand you’re dealt when you go in pro se,” Floreancig said.
Yep. And finally:
With Christmas coming up and a family to support, Laura Bell said, “it’s going to sit there. I’m not paying it, obviously.”
Just don’t whine when the school district slaps a lien on your house and forecloses, or garnishes your husband’s paycheck. Or if the judge holds you in contempt and lets you think about it behind bars for a few days.
Read the whole thing here. The sidebar summarizing the case is useful.