Judge rules against Churchill, grants CU Board odd absolutist powers

Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves delivered a full-bore defeat to fired CU-Boulder Ethnic Studies professor and political hot potato Ward Churchill yesterday, ruling that the court would not compel the university to reinstate Churchill or pay him lost wages. The ruling essentially overturned a jury decision arrived at in the spring that found Churchill was unlawfully fired by CU. The jury found unpersuasive arguments made by the board of regents that Churchill had plagiarized material and stretched conclusions in his research.

The jury decided that Churchill was in fact fired because talk radio hosts didn’t like what he wrote about the 9/11 attacks and because neither did GOP Gov. Bill Owens and neither did the CU Board of Regents — or at least that the Board didn’t think Churchill’s opinions were worth defending in the name of academic freedom and freedom of expression in general. Yesterday’s ruling suggests Judge Naves also places little value on Ward Churchill’s right to free expression, regurgitating in the ruling the defeated arguments of the state. And, not to be outdone, the Denver Post this morning jumps on board, regurgitating the regurgitations of the bench, reporting as fact in the second paragraph of its story the specious allegations of academic misconduct at the heart of the trial, the same allegations the state failed to substantiate for the jury.

Here is the Denver post lead into this story:

A judge has ruled that the University of Colorado doesn’t have to give controversial former professor Ward Churchill his job back, even though a jury found he was improperly fired.

Churchill, who taught ethnic studies at CU’s Boulder campus, lost his teaching position after an investigation found he had plagiarized and falsified scholarly work for years.

That “investigation” failed not only to persuade the jury of citizens in Denver but also to persuade influential academics around the country.

The Post story goes on to quote the ruling at length and then finishes with an excuse for its lopsided reporting: “Churchill couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.”

The Daily Camera posted a much better Churchill story, which includes this astonishing bit left unreported by the Post:

Naves threw out the jury’s determination that the school unlawfully retaliated against Churchill for expressing his First Amendment rights “as a matter of law,” stating in his 42-page ruling that the CU regents have absolute immunity from lawsuits in their roles as “administrative officials performing functions analogous to those of judges and prosecutors.”

The judge ruled that the regents acted in that protected capacity when they decided to dismiss the tenured ethnic studies professor in an 8-1 vote in July 2007 on charges of committing widespread academic fraud in his scholarship.

Consider that statement in terms of any other workplace environment, including the military: “The CU regents have absolute immunity from lawsuits in their roles as ‘administrative officials.'” It is an assertion well worth reporting as part of the story of this trial and worth testing with a series of follow up pieces as well– which is now of course the responsibility of the unwashed rabble of the blogosphere.

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