The Chino Valley school board is unlikely to win a costly legal battle to return sanctioned prayers to school board meetings, say attorneys from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
Attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides of Chino works with the non-profit FFRF, which represents 22 Chino Valley school district students, parents, and staff members in a 2014 lawsuit against five school board members for praying and protolyzing at public meetings.
Mr. Kaloyanides said the legal fees incurred by the appeal are running “well over $100,000, close to $150,000.”
The district lost the appeal last month when a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit upheld a 2016 court decision banning sanctioned prayers from Chino Valley school board meetings.
The 2016 judge’s ruling against the board members included a $203,000 award to FFRF attorneys.
That award still stands, said FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel.
The school board voted 3-2 on Aug. 1 to direct legal counsel to file a writ of petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for review of the Ninth Circuit ruling which may include a petition for rehearing the case by the Ninth Circuit Court.
Mr. Kaloyanides said the petition is for the Ninth Circuit Court to rehear the case before the entire court instead of a just a small panel of judges. He said the Ninth Circuit Court is not required to act upon the request.
If the court accepts the school board’s petition, the attorneys say legal fees could reach $750,000, which includes previous court awards.
Mr. Seidel said if the district were to lose again at the Ninth Circuit, the next step would be the U.S. Supreme Court.
“A million dollars is not out of the realm of possibility if the Supreme Court goes through the entire process,” he added.
The FFRF attorney feels the district has little chance because the Sixth Circuit and Third Circuit have already decided the issue, he said.
Mr. Seidel said board member Andrew Cruz was incorrect in stating that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns 80 percent of the Ninth Circuit appeals (Chino Champion, Aug, 4, 2018.)
“The Supreme Court only accepts one tenth of one percent, or .1 percent of the Ninth Circuit cases,” he said, adding “It’s frustrating to see this happening because the law here is pretty clear.”
The district’s legal firm Tyler and Burch are working pro-bono on the case, with backing from Advocates for Faith and Freedom.
Attorney Robert Tyler did not return phone calls from the Champion this week.
In a July 25 news release, Mr. Tyler cited the 2017 court case American Humanist Association v. McCarty from the Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and a case from 2014 in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld ceremonial prayer at city council meetings in Town of Greece v Galloway, in support of the district’s case.
Chino Valley district spokeswoman Imee Perius said the district, and not individual board members, hold responsibility to pay the court awards.
Gina Gleason, a staff member of Chino Hills Calvary Chapel, told the Champion last week that the church had raised more than $100,000 and would continue efforts to help defray the district’s legal costs.
The district had not received any donations towards the case, Mrs. Perius said on Thursday.
Board members Sylvia Orozco, James Na and Andrew Cruz, who attend local Calvary Chapel churches, voted in favor of the petition. Board members Pam Feix and Irene-Hernandez Blair opposed the action.