Saturday, November 03, 2007

Snyder can seize Westboro property


BALTIMORE -

Westboro Baptist Church’s property can be seized, even as its leaders appeal a federal jury’s decision forcing the church to pay $10.9 million for protesting a Marine’s funeral.

If church members don’t allow Topeka police to seize property for the father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, Albert Snyder, they would be forced to pay more than $13 million, 120 percent of the judgment, said Sean Summers, Snyder’s attorney.

Even though many First Amendment experts expect the case to be overturned, Summers vowed to chase the church until the entire $10.9 million is collected.

Snyder sued the church and three of its leaders — founder Fred Phelps and two of his daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis — after they picketed outside Matthew’s March 2006 funeral in Westminster with signs reading, “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Church members claimed the Marine died at God’s hands because America tolerates homosexuality.

A lien would typically be placed on the property before being seized if an appeal is filed, so that if a decision is overturned, the property does not change ownership multiple times.

But the Snyder family wants to send a message to Westboro to stop inflicting pain on grieving families.

“I knew if I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” Snyder said. “Hopefully, they won’t be doing it anymore.”

Phelps lives at the church in Topeka, Kan., which has a swimming pool and shares a backyard with two blocks of surrounding, fenced-in houses where family and church members live.

Westboro’s attorney, Jonathan Katz, did not return calls for comment.

Katz has 10 days after the trial to file a standard post-trial motion asking for a reduced judgment, and then for postponing any property seizures by several months, Summers said.

“I don’t care about the money,” said Bonnie Snyder, Matthew’s aunt. “That’s not going to bring Matt back. “It’s to get those people to stop.”

msilvestri@baltimoreexaminer.com

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