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What do you think is the most important right guaranteed by U.S. Constitution, a right so important that without it, life in our country would be far different from what we know?

“Freedom of Speech, of course!” you’re thinking. “That right supports all the others, such as Freedom of Religion and a Free Press.”

And in survey after survey, Freedom of Speech comes in at the top.

Next question: “Who or what is responsible for keeping our free speech rights alive and healthy?” You are probably thinking, “Our legal system, and lawyers who defend these rights in court.”

That’s the way it should work, but what would you say – how would you feel – if you learned that instead of protecting the free speech rights of college students, school administrators and their lawyers have been doing everything in their power to trample on them?

For that is precisely what’s been going on at Los Angeles Pierce College, one of nine schools in the Los Angeles Community College District. And it all began when Pierce student Kevin Shaw attempted – had the nerve - to hand out copies of the United States Constitution - which is only one of the most important documents ever written.

How dare he do this! My God, the U.S. Constitution! “Kevin must be doing the Devil’s work,” or so apparently thought one of the school’s deans, who promptly told him to knock it off or face real trouble because he wasn’t in the school’s Free Speech Zone.

Ever hear of a Free Speech Zone?

Have you ever heard the term, “Free Speech Zone?” A lot of people haven’t, so, for readers who attended college when the entire campus was a place where our First Amendment rights were exercised daily, a lot has changed, and none of it for the better.

While the Pierce campus is on 426 acres, its administration designated an area large enough to park a couple of cars as a “Free Speech Zone.” Students can use this area only by obtaining permission. That’s right, there’s nothing “Free” about the Free Speech Zone. You can’t just start handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution without permission from the administration.

The school’s message is a slap in the face of Free Speech, coming down to, “We know better and will decide who can engage in Free Speech in our Free Speech Zone.”

Courts have consistently found such restrictions to be unconstitutional.

This did not go down well with Kevin, nor the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education who filed suit against the college district, The United States Department of Justice joining in this suit against Pierce.

“We’ve done nothing wrong!”

A college–especially a taxpayer supported, public institution–is a place where discussion and debate is to be fostered and encouraged. It is a public forum. But not to the wizards who hold high positions in the Los Angeles Community College District. They denied that relatively obvious fact. But on January 18th, a Federal District Court told the school to pound sand, their motion to dismiss Kevin’s suit was denied, and unless settled – saving taxpayers a lot of money - this case will continue.

Attorney fees - $111,000 squandered!

Any second year law student in a Constitutional Law course would tell you the District’s position is about as unsinkable as the Titanic.

Unless some administrator with common sense stands up and orders their lawyers to settle the case, the $111,000 paid to this point will seem like lunch money because when the school loses–and they are going to lose, bigtime–they will be hit for the other side’s attorney fees.

Just think of how that $111,000 could have been spent, on books or tuition for poor students.

You are probably wondering “If it is clear, or should be clear to a competent lawyer that a client’s position is not sound and based upon experience, is going to lose and lose badly - we’re talking about taxpayer money going down the drain - doesn’t this raise serious ethical questions?”

“Lawyers are ethically required to provide clients with sound legal advice and counsel which includes evaluating the chances for success and the sustainability of the legal position taken. If the position is weak the client must be informed,” commented Bakersfield business attorney Jay Rosenlieb.

Kevin Shaw is a gutsy college student who did not cave in to bullies. Pierce had a duty to resolve this matter immediately, respecting the U.S. Constitution and saving taxpayer money. Whoever approved this nauseating waste of public funds wanted to make a point. And they did. Enough! Stop now.

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.

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