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 instruct attorneys representing the university to enter a voluntary mediation session with attorneys for the parents of Robert Champion.
Champion died last November after Marching 100 members allegedly beat him during a hazing ritual.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts in the hazing of Champion. They have pleaded not guilty.
The Champions, who live in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Ga., in their lawsuit 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 allowed nonstudents to play in the band, 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 before a trial takes place.
"We have not committed to mediation," Chestnut said. "We are engaged in and committed to aggressively litigating this case in the memory of Robert Champion and to protect other students."
Chestnut said he was unable to comment on whether the Champions ever would consider a settlement agreement.
"The fight for the Champions right now is for the safety of people," Chestnut said.
Any settlement of the case 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. They did not discuss the case publicly before voting to authorize the mediation session.
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.