Why Ward Churchill Only Got $1.00 in Damages

The Denver Post reports on why jurors only awarded Ward Churchill $1.00 in damages for his wrongful termination by the University of Colorado: One juror insisted on it, and the other five, fearful of a hung jury, went along. The others thought he should get his legal fees in addition to $110,000, a year's salary. According to one of the jurors who would have awarded Churchill money,

"She [the lone juror] was like, she couldn't even stand to give him a dollar. We saw where she was coming from. She felt that he ruined his own reputation and that when you put something out there, even though it is protected speech, there are consequences."

With the lone holdout refusing to come around and the possibility of a hung jury looming, the others eventually agreed to the notion of a symbolic award of $1.00.

Churchill still stands to make some money if the Judge doesn't give him his job back: [More...]

[Judge]Naves has the option of ordering CU to reinstate Churchill or to shell out "front pay" instead, in which case [Churchill attorney David]Lane said he'd seek "five to 10 years at $110,000 a year (Churchill's salary before he was fired) plus interest."

The Judge will order CU to pay Churchill's legal fees, which could be up to $1 million. CU will also be out its own legal fees which it says exceed $500,000.

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    He should get his salary back. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Dr Molly on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:10:04 PM EST
    He was wrongfully terminated for saying volatile, stupid things, and the right-wing lynch mobs pressured CU until they fired him.

    BTW, CU professors get a not-half-bad salary - was he associate or full professor?

    The RWLM's... (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:14:10 PM EST
    ...also, in my opinion, used the outrage generated over Churchill to get one of their own appointed President of CU.

    Indeed. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Dr Molly on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:19:35 PM EST
    It's quite scary to think how things were during that time period, and how much opportunizing the RWLM's engaged in while people were scared out of their wits.

    Indeed to your... (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:22:33 PM EST
    ...indeed.  In a political enviroment where the state GOP was literaly imploding before our very eyes, Ward Churchill was the perfect "evil liberal" scapegoat that kept them on life support.  

    And the rode that scapegoat of as far as it could carry them.


    Yes, wow, that's quite a salary level (none / 0) (#2)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:22:17 PM EST
    they've got going there.  Twice the norm for associate profs in my state, still much more than most full profs make.

    Boulder has such a high cost of living. (none / 0) (#3)
    by Dr Molly on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:26:18 PM EST
    But still. I interviewed for a faculty position there about 5 years ago - a joint position between a  dept. and bio lab mgmt. It was at least 2 jobs in 1 and they told me the starting salary would be $52K. I remember leaving and thinking I could never live there on that salary.

    Maybe he was a full professor.


    Just checked (none / 0) (#4)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:33:13 PM EST
    cost-of-living comparison calculators, and its about the same between Boulder and the major university town in my state.  It's an especially surprising salary considering his field -- more typical of the salaries in hard sciences and such.

    Please don't state your opinion as fact (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:56:21 PM EST
    it's also libelous. Please repost your comment or I will have to delete it. He has not been found to be a plagiarist.

    He was not found (none / 0) (#21)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:03:13 PM EST
    to be so in a court of law, true, as that was not the charge.  Did the colleagues on the committee commit libel?  Can they do so in that venue?  I don't know the statutory status of the university in your state.

    Sorry -- to your point (none / 0) (#22)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:17:35 PM EST
    delete at will; it's your blog, of course.  I was basing my statement not only on my own reading of the excerpts, and on the determination of the university panel, but also on his own statement in court that plagiarism did occur.  (I still cannot find a good transcript to clarify why he blames it on his ex-wife, but I expect that this will be made more clear in the academic trade papers than in a mainstream paper.)

    I did delete that one comment of your's (none / 0) (#31)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 07:53:30 PM EST
    thanks for responding. It had to go.

    Might want to check (none / 0) (#34)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 10:11:03 PM EST
    #23, although it may be okay by your measure.

    He has been found to (none / 0) (#35)
    by Bemused on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 07:24:14 AM EST
     be a plagiarist and also  to have misrepresented certain facts.

      Nothing in the verdict suggests any reason to doubt any of those findings by CU's review.

      The jury's verdict means only that it did not believe that those findings were the cause for firing him. The jury agreed those findings were a pretext offered by the University which fired him because of his political expression.



    Reinstate him (2.00 / 1) (#5)
    by elrapido on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:40:40 PM EST
    Who cares about plagiarism, anyway?

    Not why they fired him. (5.00 / 0) (#6)
    by Dr Molly on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:43:42 PM EST
    Really? (none / 0) (#8)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 04:58:13 PM EST
    Eleven professors have signed a complaint against the investigation and its findings, claiming the Committee's research violates standard scholarly practices by using biased information and suppressing information favorable to Churchill.[52] Margaret LeCompte, who is chair of CU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, views the Churchill case as a "key precedent that could lead to curtailing academic freedoms."[53] In addition, scholars, activists and organizations including the ACLU, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Derrick Jensen, Drucilla Cornell, Bill Ayers and Immanuel Wallerstein, have issued statements objecting to the circumstances of Churchill's firing.[54]


    Yes, really. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:28:19 PM EST
    How does your comment deal with mine?  The problem that the campus chapter of the AAUP correctly raises is about suppressing information that is favorable to Churchill.  (These academic committee hearings can be conducted quite poorly.)

    But that does not, from what I have read, relate to the plagiarism (and copyright violations), which appear to be well-founded and more than "sloppy scholarship."  Its concern appears to relate to others of many charges of research misconduct -- some of which do seem trumped-up to me.  (I would have gone with, at most, the committee's recommendation of a suspension.)


    Not Black and White (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:45:51 PM EST
    Churchill's appeal against his proposed dismissal was considered by a panel of the University's Privilege and Tenure Committee, which found that two of the seven findings of misconduct did not constitute dismissible offences. Three members recommended that the penalty should be demotion and one year's suspension without pay, while two favored dismissal.[3][47]

    Evidentially plagiarism is not like being pregnant. There is some plagiarism that would be subject to dismissal and some that would only engender a slap on the wrist.

    From what I have read he is clearly an activist and has made a lot of enemies on the left and the right. He also seems to have quite a few of very notable supporters.


    Again, this does not state (none / 0) (#15)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:50:16 PM EST
    that the two findings that you note dealt with the plagiarism (which was, from excerpts I read, pretty blatant -- or as you apparently would put it, nine months along in a pregnancy).  

    And again, I also have problems with some of the other charges.  So with what that I said are you disagreeing?  


    Outright Plagiarism (none / 0) (#19)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:58:49 PM EST
    Is grounds for dismissal for a tenured faculty member, no? IOW, if a professor intentionally copied another's work for career advancement and financial gain wouldn't that be grounds for automatic dismissal? Wouldn't that also demonstrate a complete lack of integrity by the plagiarist?

    From what I understand this is not the case here.

    I find it hard to believe that Chomsky, for example, would support Churchill were that the case.


    You get to the problem (none / 0) (#20)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:01:11 PM EST
    which is intent.

    He's a very polarizing figure... (none / 0) (#18)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:56:27 PM EST
    ...you either like him or hate him.  The vast majority around here fall into the later category.  That's what no doubt makes it difficult for most people to seperate his essay on 9-11 (the reason he was fired, IMO) from the other issues.  

    Since this is TL, I'll just say that I wouldn't cross the room to have a conversion with the man, but I think the jury did a good job of seperating the personality from the issue.


    I don't hate him (none / 0) (#23)
    by Steve M on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:19:27 PM EST
    I do think he committed plagiarism, though, and he seems to be getting away with playing the sympathy card to some extent.

    Your opinion of the man... (none / 0) (#27)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:37:49 PM EST
    ...might well be different if you lived here and were exposed to the media excess that has gone on locally.  It was almost hypnotic.  

    I'd not really care for him at all, but I have a good sense when the "man" (state GOP) is out to get someone for expressing their opinion. I do sympathise with him on that aspect.  

    The plagiarism issue is secondary to the real reason behind his firing and should be dealt with seperately.  


    And I appreciate the context (none / 0) (#28)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:53:11 PM EST
    you provide of local politics, which has not been dealt with much in national academic media's coverage.  And it pervades so many public universities' Boards of Regents.  (That privates  pick their boards of trustees more often from a donor pool, of course, can lead to similar problems.  Either way, money talks -- and students, employees, and academic freedom suffer.)

    Without a doubt... (none / 0) (#29)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 07:11:54 PM EST
    ...this was a polical witch hunt, not an academic issue from the start.  

    I think as State employees, we are probably more sensative to effects of injecting partisan politics into govenment institutions and the damage that it can do.  

    It usually leads to the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.  


    Yup (none / 0) (#30)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 07:19:18 PM EST
    After the investigation was launched, Noam Chomsky wrote that "[I] regard the attack on [Churchill] as scurrilous-and by now craven cowardice as well, as the state authorities and other critics pretend that the issue is (suddenly) his academic credentials and ethnic origins.

    That's a real disgrace." Chomsky added that if the plagiarism charges against him were serious, they would have been brought up sooner and that they are being brought up now "by cowards who are desperately seeking to conceal what they are really doing.



    So do I (none / 0) (#24)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:20:01 PM EST
    although I'm also not an admirer of his work.  But the BoR's actions were outrageous, as well as dishonest, and Churchill was right to fight it.

    This is a reply to MileHi (none / 0) (#25)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 06:21:21 PM EST
    i.e., I agree that the jury did a good job.

    true (none / 0) (#39)
    by Bemused on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 09:52:20 AM EST
      Plagiarism can range from sloppy footnoting failing to properly attribute sources to lifting long passages verbatim.

      CU's review reached no conclusion on some of the plagiarism allegations (apparently Churchill's defense to some of the allegations that the works he was accused of plagiarizing were in fact his own but published under the name of his ex-wife and others to help them in their careers). Other examples did appear of the sloppy sourcing type, but a couple were pretty clear because his publication contained lengthy almost verbatim reprints of others' work without attribution. with one as I recall he actually had previously published the same passages with attribution and then later published it without.

       The other academic misconduct charges related more to misrepresenting the work of others that he used to support the theses of his articles. That would seem to me to be much more of a gray area. It also seems that at least some of it had to do with Churchill ascribing a deliberate and malicious intent to the U.S. government where previous scholars had just written that events had occurred or ascribed fault to individual actors. That is arguably  more a matter of political interpretation than "fraud."

      In any event, it appears clear that Churchill is a lousy scholar and in some instances a dishonest one. It also appears that he was both of those things throughout his tenure but CU didn't have a a prolem with it sufficient even to investigate let alone fire him until the "little Eichmann's article.

       That's damning to CU and strongly supported his argument the investigation into complaints, some of which had been raised before he wrote the 911 piece, was initiated to find a pretext to fire him for exercising free speech and not because CU is a vigilant enforcer of academic ethics.


    Legal fees (none / 0) (#12)
    by NYShooter on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:35:39 PM EST
    "The Judge will order CU to pay Churchill's legal fees, which could be up to $1 million."

    Doesn't anyone see anything wrong with this?

    Like health care, the rich live, the poor don't deserve to.

    Talk about "pay to play!"........$1.000,000!

    "For liberty and justice for...... (those who have 1,000,000)"

    It may be (none / 0) (#16)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 05:53:26 PM EST
    that professional organizations contributed to his fund.  AAUP does so, for example, so it may not all have been paid by him.  (Btw, I read that the university's costs were half a million.  This was a very costly case, and let us hope that lessons are learned from that, considering the jury's result.)  

    Oh sure, C.C. (none / 0) (#32)
    by NYShooter on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 09:02:24 PM EST
    I never thought he had that kind of money, and that some organizations provided the money and legal advise.

    But my point was, if you or I had been libeled by someone with deep pockets, we'd just have to suck it up. Very few attorneys would take the case on contingency and even if you somehow cashed in your life savings and brought the case, there's no guarantee you would be awarded legal fee reimbursement.

    I don't know what the answer is; lawyers certainly are entitled to be paid well for all the work they had to put in to become a lawyer, but "the system," it stinks.

    (is "stink" profanity? if so, please replace with "emits odious oder.")  


    I see what you mean, and yes (none / 0) (#33)
    by Cream City on Sat Apr 04, 2009 at 10:09:27 PM EST
    there are many outrageous cases in academe without such support, so people just leave -- sometimes for another campus, but they often just leave teaching.  But the regents, they remain. . . .

    I don't know (none / 0) (#36)
    by Bemused on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 07:34:06 AM EST
      but it's equally likely that his lawyers did take the case on a contingency basis with the understanding it would be pro bono to the extent the recovery was insufficient to cover fees. You have a case with both  1st Amendment and academic freedom issues  and tons of free publicity; That's the kind of case attractive for lawyers.

      It's also quite possible that any money Churchill or his supporters could provide would go to cover expenses but that the lawyers would not receive fees unless there was a recovery.



    My point was (none / 0) (#37)
    by NYShooter on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 08:57:06 AM EST
    that this case is not representative of the justice system as it relates to average, middle class people.(forget lower class)

    Let's say you hire a contractor to build you a house. And let's say also, when it's finished, you've shelled out $300,000. And let's also assume the contract doesn't have the clause whereby legal fees are paid by the defendant in the event you file suit against him.

    Then, just as you're about to move in, the building inspector checks it out, finds it deficient, and won't issue a COA. You have the house checked out by a structural engineer who, after a full analysis, tells you the house is uninhabitable; both design and construction are faulty, and the only remedy is to bulldoze it and start over again.

    (Don't roll your eyes, this is a true story)

    So, you sue the contractor (and architect) Now, to speed things up, the results:
    Eight years till final verdict; you win $275,000; you've spent $250,000 out of pocket for attorneys. The judge says, "Here's your judgment, see ya later, YOU can now try and collect your money.

    It happens every day, in one form or another. Corporation use the financial strain on individuals to brow beat them out of their rights every single day.

    Forget Churchill, I care for the millions who get screwed by the system year in and year out. Unless you've through it, you can't believe what a joke our "justice system" is.


    Oh, I agree (none / 0) (#38)
    by Bemused on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 09:32:16 AM EST
      with the general point that the legal system works least well when people of limited means have valid claims that while large amounts to them cannot be efficiently pursued due to costs of litigation.

      I do very little civil work these days and it is entirely confiened to civil rights actions against public entities that I know are not and will not become judgment proof. Earlier in my career I did more civil work and commonly had situations as you describe. Especially, but not exclusively,  in the absence of insurance coverage for a claim a great many valid civil claims literally can't be satisfactorily resolved from a client's standpoint. I would decline representation in many cases because it was not financially in my interest to pursue it as a contingent fee case and I wasn't comfortable charging hourly fees when I knew the likelihood of the case ending with my client being financially better than if he did not pursue the case was low.

      One thing I would stress to any individual or small business looking to pursue a claim for damages  is to be very hesitant to agree to fund the litigation either by paying hourly fees, a flat up-front fee or incurred expenses. If a lawyer does not want to advance costs and pursue on a contingency fee basis there is probably a very good reason for it-- he doesn't think he can make money that way.

    Remember too most lawyers have more money and more credit available than do you, and  a greater understanding of both the likelihood of reaching a settlement or verdict that will be worth it and of the likelihood the judgment will be collectable. If he's not willing to risk his time money, you should think long and hard before risking your money.


    Too sadly true (none / 0) (#40)
    by Cream City on Sun Apr 05, 2009 at 07:58:03 PM EST
    and this case is not even anywhere near representative of justice -- in the legal system, in government agencies, or on campuses -- as it relates to the average academic, with all of the alleged protections of academic freedom.  

    Many are targeted on trumped-up charges or mistreated and maligned in other ways.  There really are so few resorts for recompense, and many careers are ruined or just never fully realized.  That is why each of these cases that can be fought can have at least a brief chilling effect on boards of regents, trustees, and the like . . . no matter how likeable or unlikeable may be the one who wages the fight.

    That cannot matter -- but the latest way to get rid of people in academe is based on "lack of collegiality."  Think about it; how do you assess it?  Someone always can be found who doesn't like someone else in any workplace.


    Heh (none / 0) (#41)
    by Steve M on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 01:34:59 AM EST
    There's really no such animal as "contingency, but pro bono if we don't recover enough."  Every contingency case would be pro bono if you want to look at it that way!

    sure there is (none / 0) (#42)
    by Bemused on Mon Apr 06, 2009 at 06:54:41 AM EST
      Public interest outfits do it all the time. If  a lawyer provides representation for which he doesn't charge the client directly and then seeks attorney fees in court, what would you call it?