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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Girl Behind ‘Shameful’|Posts Rakes In Fees

(CN) - Attorneys who successfully fought a middle schooler's suspension for posting a raunchy faux MySpace profile of her principal will recover more than $275,000, a federal judge ruled.

J.S., an eighth grader at Blue Mountain Middle School in Orwigsburg, Pa., had created a fake MySpace profile for her principal, James McGonigle, with a school website photo in 2007.

The "general interests" section listed "detention, being a tight ass ... spending time with my child (who looks like a gorilla) ... fucking in my office, hitting on students and their parents."

In the "About Me" section, J.S. wrote: "For those who want to be my friend ... I love children, sex (any kind) ... being a dick head, and ... my darling wife who looks like a man."

J.S. allegedly made the profile after McGonigle disciplined her for a dress-code violation.

Though she was not on school grounds when she created the profile, the Blue Mountain School District suspended J.S. for 10 days.

J.S. and her parents later sued, claiming constitutional rights violations.

Though a federal judge in Scranton granted the district summary judgment, and the 3rd Circuit affirmed , that appellate decision conflicted with the court's resolution of a similar case and both faced reconsideration.

The second time around, the federal appeals court changed course and called it unconstitutional to punish J.S. for her "shameful" personal attacks on the principal and his family.

Though puerile, profane and "disturbing," the faux profile was "so outrageous that no one took its content seriously," according to the ruling.

After the Supreme Court refused in January 2012 to weigh in, the district agreed to pay J.S. a $7,500 settlement.

She then petitioned for nearly $469,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick recommended awarding about $278,000 in fees and nearly $32,000 in costs.

U.S. District Judge James Munley pared that figure down further and awarded J.S. a total of $275,450 last week.

The 10 percent reduction stems from an objection by the school district to take the student's unsuccessful claims into account.

Munley refused the girl's request to determine hourly rates at an evidentiary hearing.

"In the instant case, we find that a hearing is not necessary to fairly decide disputed questions of fact," Munley wrote. "Both parties have submitted attorney affidavits from which we can determine a reasonable hourly rate based upon the prevailing market rates in the relevant community."

The court also declined to let the Scranton attorneys collect at the rates Pittsburgh and Philadelphia lawyers charge.

"Plaintiff's argument is not convincing," Munley wrote. "If she had hired local counsel to handle the case, no evidence suggests that the counsel's fees would have risen to the rate charged by Philadelphia or Pittsburgh lawyers merely because an appeal was taken which was heard in a courthouse in a larger, more expensive, legal market. Regardless, no trials or evidentiary hearings were ever held in the appellate court in Philadelphia."

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