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Fred Phelps Jr

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In his instructions to the jury, U. S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett stated that the First Amendment protection of free speech has limits, including vulgar, offensive and shocking statements, and that the jury must decide "whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection". (see also Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, a case in which certain personal slurs and obscene utterances by an individual were found unworthy of First Amendment protection, due to the potential for violence resulting from their utterance). WBC sought a mistrial based on alleged prejudicial statements made by the judge and violations of the gag order by the plaintiff's attorney. An appeal was also sought by the WBC. On February 4, 2008, Bennett upheld the ruling but reduced the punitive damages from $8 million to $2. 1 million. The total judgment then stood at $5 million. Court liens were ordered on church buildings and Phelps' law office in an attempt to ensure that the damages were paid. [57]

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