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KOUNTZE ISD CHEERLEADER FOOTBALL BANNER CASE HELD MOOT

Case citation:  KountzeISDv. Matthews, 2014 WL 1857797 (Tex. App. – Beaumont 2014) (unpublished).

Summary:  Parents of a group of cheerleaders in the Kountze Independent School District sued the district and its former superintendent, Kevin Weldon, after Weldon issued a decree that prohibited the cheerleaders from including religiously-themed messages on run-through banners used at the beginning of school football games. After a combined hearing on multiple motions, including Kountze ISD’s plea to the jurisdiction, the trial court denied Kountze ISD’s plea to the jurisdiction and granted a partial judgment in favor of the parents.

Kountze ISD appealed the trial court’s denial of its plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the trial court erred because the parents’ claims were moot and the trial court, therefore, lacked jurisdiction over parents’ claims.

Ruling: The appeals court agreed with the district that the parents’ constitutional claims and statutory claims under chapters 106 and 110 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code have been rendered moot.  According to the court, the parents brought this suit so their children could continue to display religiously-themed messages on run-through banners at school football games.  The case became moot because the district adopted a new policy that allows student cheerleaders to display religious content on the run-through banners.

The record showed that on April 8, 2013, the Kountze ISD Board of Trustees adopted Resolution and Order No. 3, which states, in part, that school personnel are not required to prohibit messages on school banners, including run-through banners that display fleeting expressions of community sentiment solely because the source or origin of such messages is religious.  The resolution was distributed to all campus principals, who were to instruct all campus principals “to distribute [the new policy] to the athletic director, the coaches of the various sports teams, and the Cheerleader Squad sponsors.” Kountze ISD also made certain judicial admissions in the pending litigation to affirm its new policy and its future intentions regarding religious content on the run-through banners. This all rendered the case moot.

Finding no exception to the mootness doctrine in this case, the court of appeals reversed the trial court order and rendered judgment in favor of the district.  In doing so, the court also vacated the October 18, 2012 temporary injunction which prohibited Kountze ISD, Weldon, and others associated with Kountze ISD, from preventing members of the Kountze Cheerleading Squad from displaying run-through banners “containing expressions of a religious viewpoint at sporting events.”  Still pending are the parties’ claims for attorneys’ fees.

Comments: Even though the cheerleaders now have the ability to quote Scripture on the banners, their lawyers are threatening an appeal of this decision. By declaring the case “moot” the court avoided having to tackle the more important issue: is this practice constitutional? The lawyers representing the cheerleaders would prefer to get a yes answer to that question.  Stay tuned!

 

Threats To School

WHAT WAS REQUIRED TO PROVE THE FELONY OFFENSE OF FALSE ALARM?

Case citation:   IntheMatterofC.M.W., 2014 WL 1089756 (Tex. App. – San Antonio 2014) (unpublished).

Summary:  C.M.W., a San Antonio high-school student, was charged with felony false alarm for making threats against his school. A jury found C.M.W. engaged in delinquent conduct and he appealed.  The record showed that C.M.W. threatened to blow up the school and shoot everyone in the school. Four student witnesses testified that C.M.W. made these statements on numerous occasions over a two- to three-week period.

C.M.W.’s classmates eventually reported the threats to Kenneth Vogel, Jr., the school’s vice-principal. Mr. Vogel testified that after obtaining their written statements, he then called C.M.W. to his office. According to Mr. Vogel, C.M.W. acted angry and denied the students’ allegations. He also talked about killing himself. Mr. Vogel further stated C.M.W. admitted talking about “a Columbine-style shooting,” but said it was someone else’s idea. Because Mr. Vogel was concerned about student safety, he called the campus police. The vice principal’s testimony was corroborated by two officers. C.M.W. was the only defense witness at trial. He testified that he never made any of the statements he was accused of making. A jury found C.M.W. had engaged in delinquent conduct.  C.M.W. appealed the decision, arguing that the evidence was insufficient and that his adjudication violated Family Code § 54.03(e), because he claimed that it was based on only his own uncorroborated statements.

Ruling: The court of appeals affirmed the finding that C.M.W. had engaged in delinquent conduct.  Under Family Code § 54.03(e), “A statement made by the child out of court is insufficient to support a finding of delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision unless it is corroborated in whole or in part by other evidence.”  According to C.M.W., that provision required reversal of his adjudication because it was based only on his out-of-court statements that were not corroborated by other evidence. The statements at issue were those he made to his classmates about blowing up the school and shooting everyone in the school. The appeals court observed, however, that C.M.W.’s statements were not out-of-court statements admitting to the commission of the crime, but rather were statements constituting the crime itself and were therefore not required to be corroborated. There was no violation of Family Code § 54.03(e).

C.M.W. also argued that the evidence was insufficient to show he committed the offense of making a false alarm or report.  Penal Code § 42.06, provides, in relevant part, that “A person commits an offense if he knowingly initiates, communicates or circulates a report of a present, past, or future bombing, fire, offense, or other emergency that he knows is false or baseless and that would ordinarily: (1) cause action by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies….”

According to C.M.W., the State failed to prove he knew his statements would ordinarily cause action by an agency organized to deal with emergencies. However, C.M.W. cited no authority for this argument. And, in fact, the plain language of Penal Code § 42.06 shows that such knowledge is not required.   Instead, it is an offense (1) to knowingly report an emergency (2) that one knows to be false, and (3) that would ordinarily cause action by an agency organized to deal with emergencies. Thus, knowledge is required for the first two subsections, but not for the third. Finding no error, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.