Florida A&M trying to settle lawsuit
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida A&M University wants to try to settle a family's lawsuit against the school over the hazing death of a band member.
FAMU trustees on Thursday voted to enter a voluntary mediation session with attorneys for the parents of Robert Champion, who authorities said died last November after Marching 100 members beat him during a hazing ritual.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts. They have pleaded not guilty.
The Champions, who live in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Ga., claim university officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing three days before their son died.
School officials also fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing, the lawsuit said.
Chris Chestnut, an attorney for the Champions, said the drum major's parents are still committed to going to trial, but that a judge would require that mediation be attempted.
"We are engaged in and committed to aggressively litigating this case in the memory of Robert Champion and to protect other students," Chestnut said.
Chestnut said he was unable to comment on whether the Champions ever would consider a settlement, which would have to be approved by FAMU trustees. Florida law also requires any settlement in excess of $300,000 to be approved by the Florida Legislature.
Trustees met in a closed session for nearly an hour with in-house attorneys and an attorney from the prominent law firm of GrayRobinson to discuss the pending lawsuit.
FAMU trustees said after the meeting that the decision to pursue mediation should not be seen as an admission that the university did something wrong. Solomon Badger, chairman of the FAMU board, called it the "first step" in any litigation.
Charles Langston, a FAMU trustee, said that no financial amounts were discussed during the closed-door session. He said the board just spent time going over its options and that part of the goal of mediation was "fact finding" where everyone could put their "cards on the table."
The move to try to settle the lawsuit comes shortly before FAMU was expected to file a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.
The Marching 100 has been suspended and will not play during the upcoming academic year. FAMU has already announced strict new requirements for members when the band returns.