The National Socialist Movement and its former leader Jeff Schoep have joined a growing list of rally lawsuit defendants seeking to reduce the hundreds of thousands of dollars in punitive damages directed at them through a federal lawsuit.
The prolific Sines v. Kessler federal lawsuit that sought to hold organizers and key participants responsible for the 2017 violence in Charlottesville has stretched past its November end date, prolonging the yearslong case.
The plaintiffs claimed victory after an 11-person jury found that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy, as defined by Virginia law, and imposed more than $26 million in fines.
However, several defendants are seeking either a new trial or reduced damages, citing the jury’s lack of a verdict on a more specific federal conspiracy law that alleged racially motivated violence, and a disparity between punitive damages and compensatory damages.
In addition to Schoep and the National Socialist Movement, which filed motions Thursday, defendants Chris Cantwell, Jason Kessler, Nathan Damigo and Identity Evropa have filed motions to reconsider.
Schoep and the movement’s motions both argue that the court should alter its judgment granting damages of $500,000 and $1 million, respectively, “due to the manifest injustice which would result from the implementation of such order as written.”
In both motions, the parties’ attorney William E. ReBrook argues that ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages violates the Constitution’s due process clause and cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance case. In that case, ReBrook quoted that the SCOTUS ruled “few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages will satisfy due process.”
Throughout both motions, ReBrook cites a variety of cases as both precedent and supporting evidence for why he believes the punitive damages, levied to punish his clients for their actions, should be reduced. The arguments are familiar. Other defendants have argued that punitive damages should be proportional to the compensatory damages, which the jury ordered to compensate plaintiffs for costs they suffered as a result of the plaintiffs actions.
“But a charitable estimate of plaintiffs [Natalie Romero, April Muniz, Thomas Baker, Marissa Blair, Marcus Martin, Chelsea Alvarado and Devin Willis’], actual harm caused by a civil conspiracy was $1,” ReBrook wrote. “The punishment ratios in this case, using these estimates of actual harm, would be 500,000 to 1 which is well above the single-, double-, or, rarely, triple-digit multiples that the courts have approved.”
In Schoep’s motion, ReBrook argues that plaintiffs’ counsel was “relentless in their efforts to strike any mention of defendant Schoep’s renunciation of white supremacist beliefs,” and that this could have influenced the jury’s decision.
Following the deadly Unite the Right rally, Schoep left the National Socialist Movement and has claimed to have abandoned his white supremacist views. He also founded the nonprofit Beyond Barriers, which purports to be a new approach of countering and preventing extremism.
“Had plaintiffs’ counsel allowed testimony of the defendant’s current work to be heard, the jury would have been better equipped to determine the proper amount of punitive damage, if any, only against Defendant Schoep,” ReBrook wrote. “This prejudice is evidenced by the blanket judgment of $500,000 punitive damages award against all individual defendants.”
Though Schoep’s motion to amend or alter the judgment came recently, a month ago a motion was filed on behalf of Schoep that differed significantly from the others in that it was not filed by the defendant or his attorney.
Bearing the name of petitioner Daryl Davis, the motion for reconsideration is a collection of testimonials from Davis and others that argue Schoep has changed his ways since the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally.
“It was the influence and work of me (a Black Christian man) and my friend Deeyah Khan (a Brown-skinned Muslim woman) that was the impetus for [Schoep] to not only denounce his supremacist/nationalist ideology, but to dedicate his life towards deradicalizing those who remain in these movements and to prevent, especially young people, from being caught up and brainwashed into joining these movements,” Davis wrote.
Included in Davis’ petition are more than a dozen testimonials from other people advocating for Schoep’s change in character, including several people of the Jewish faith and self-purported far-right researchers.
According to Schoep, the filing was done by Davis without his input or prior knowledge.
It remains to be seen how the court will respond to Davis’ petition, which will likely hold little sway procedurally since he is not party to the lawsuit.
According to a post-trial scheduling order, defendants have until March 9 to file motions and supporting memoranda. According to the timeline, it appears unlikely that the federal court will rule on any of the post-trial motions until May, at the earliest.