A judge has awarded nearly $374,000 in legal expenses to the three University of Florida professors who sued the institution over its abandoned efforts to stop them from testifying as expert witnesses in a voting rights case against the state.
In November 2021, facing public blowback, the university completely backed away from its ban on their testifying. But the political science professors—Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel A. Smith—nonetheless that month sued the university’s Board of Trustees, its then president and other university officials. They alleged that an unconstitutionally restrictive policy continued to exist, hanging over them and other scholars.
In a Thursday order, Mark E. Walker, chief U.S. district judge in the Northern District of Florida, said the court had already agreed with the professors that their lawsuit was valid, and he awarded the expenses.
The University of Florida didn’t provide comment Tuesday or say whether it plans to appeal the charges. Orlando Weekly reported that the university’s lawyers, in an earlier filing, had objected to the awarding of fees, arguing that the professors’ “only court-ordered success on the merits, the preliminary injunction, was a technical or de minimis (minor) victory.”
But Walker wrote that the professors’ victory was significant.
“Plaintiffs’ victory on its First Amendment claim prevented Defendants from continuing to censor [their] employees’ free speech in violation of the First Amendment,” he wrote, “until Defendants voluntarily amended their policy to eliminate its unconstitutional aspects.”