Thursday, April 02, 2009
Ward Churchill won his case against the University of Colorado today as a Denver jury unanimously decided he was fired in retaliation for his controversial essay on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The jury gave Churchill $1 for past losses, finding he was fired over protected free speech.
Denver Chief District Judge Larry J. Naves will decide in a separate hearing whether the former professor can return to his job or receive pay for years he may have worked at CU.
Earlier this afternoon, Naves summoned the attorneys from each side back to court because the jurors had a question.
The jurors asked: "Judge, we are feeling uncomfortable about the damages portion. Would you be able to meet with us to talk about what is required and other things regarding money? And is $0 an option?"
Naves replied: "I cannot meet with you. Please re-read the instructions concerning damages if you find for the plaintiff but find no damages (you will have to) find in the sum of $1."
The jurors then had another question: "If all but one jury member can agree on a dollar amount for Question 4, can that person be replaced by another juror?"
Naves told them that wasn't possible,
The four women and two men listened to the case for four weeks and heard 45 witnesses testify in the courtroom. Two male alternates were sent home after closing arguments Tuesday.
A day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Churchill wrote his essay "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" to criticize America's economic and foreign policies. In the essay, he compared some of the victims in the World Trade Center attack to "little Eichmanns" after Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who engineered the destruction of the Jews in World War II.
CU launched an investigation to determine whether that essay was protected speech. Eventually allegations surfaced that Churchill had committed plagiarism or academic misconduct in other writing, and another series of investigations was launched. A review of his work led to a vote by CU regents in 2007 that the tenured professor be fired.
CU counsel Patrick O'Rourke argued that the university fired Churchill solely because three committees investigated the professor over a two-year period and found he had engaged in fabrication, falsification and plagiarism in some of his writings on American Indians. O'Rourke told the jury that Churchill's termination had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 essay.
"The University of Colorado must diligently prevent misconduct," O'Rourke said during his closing argument. "That applies to every student and every faculty member to everybody who does anything in the university's name.
"You cannot plagiarize, you cannot falsify, you cannot fabricate."
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, told the jury there is no way his client would have lost his job from CU had it not been for the "howling mob" at the university gates who wanted him gone because of the Sept. 11 essay — including three regents who voted for his termination and the former governor.
"The regents, the lying liars, and almost all of them got on the stand — you heard them lie about what was on the table," Lane said in his closing arguments. "So they go through this charade of fairness."
O'Rourke tried to erase Lane's witch-hunt argument and told jurors that CU gave Churchill adequate due process, especially by the Privilege and Tenure Committee, which was made up of fellow faculty.
But Lane told jurors that they needed to find in favor of Ward Churchill if they believe the Sept. 11 essay he wrote was the motivating factor for his 2007 termination.
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