Court Affirms First Amendment Rights of Hilliard Family’s Counsel in UC Riverside Hazing Death Lawsuit

Riverside, Calif., Sept. 12, 2023 — A Riverside Superior Court judge upheld an attorney’s First Amendment rights to free speech involving a lawsuit filed on behalf of a family suing a UC Riverside fraternity over an alleged 2018 hazing death. 

Tyler Hilliard, a 20-year-old business major died Sept. 16, 2018, during an alleged hazing ritual while pledging to Alpha Phi Alpha – Pi Epsilon Chapter.

One of the family’s attorneys, V. James DeSimone, of V. James DeSimone Law, posted a TikTok discussing the Hilliards’ wrongful death lawsuit, drawing attention to the fears witnesses and victims have, leading them to invoke the Fifth Amendment. His TikTok did not even name the fraternity.

@civilrightsjimdesimone Judge denies fraternity’s motion to take my TikTok on hazing down in our wrongful death case. First Amendment prevails! We are asking for people who have knowledge of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity hazing or the 2019 death of Tyler Hilliard to come forward. #fraternity #hazing #hazingprevention #alphaphialpha #alphaphialphafraternity #nohazing #college #university #california ♬ original sound – CivilrightslawyerJimDeSimone

The fraternity’s attorney, G. Edwin Rush, of Sanders Roberts LLP, wanted the court to order DeSimone to remove the TikTok, and to place him under a gag order to stop him from discussing the lawsuit at all outside of court.

Plaintiff and Counsel Have a Right to Their First Amendment

On Sept. 11, 2023 Riverside County Superior Court Judge Carole Greene reinforced the plaintiffs’ and their counsel’s right to free speech, after hearing arguments from both parties.

The civil rights legal team for the Hilliard family, Toni J. Jaramilla and DeSimone, have been proactive in addressing hazing concerns related to the case.

Reacting to the court’s affirmation, DeSimone shared a new TikTok detailing the fraternity’s attempt to remove his previous posts, and appealed to those with information about Hilliard’s death or the hazing that APA pledges faced to come forward.

“This is a death that could have been avoided,” he said. “Hazing should never occur. We have evidence it occurred here and we’re looking to put a stop to it so lives can be saved.”

The trial against Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity – Pi Epsilon Chapter, on behalf of Hilliard’s family, is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2024.

Los Angeles civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone has dedicated his 35-year law career to providing vigorous and ethical representation to achieve justice for those whose civil and constitutional rights are violated.

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