April 12, 2011
Widener Law Prof Sues Dean for Defamation
Various press outlets are reporting on the lawsuit filed by Widener Law Professor Lawrence J. Connell against his Dean, Linda L. Ammons, for defamation. It all started when Connell used Ammons in a hypothetical in his criminal law class where an attempt on her life was made. Students complained later of his use of profanity and characterized statements he made about African Americans as racist. The Univeristy began inquiries which Connell in which refused to participate without an attorney. He was placed on leave at one point in the controversy.
Connell charges Ammons with making defamatory statements, including attributing racist and sexist remarks, and calling him a threat to campus safety. Note that Connell has taught at Widener for some 26 years and is tenured. If Connell is in fact a threat, I would assume that is a recent development. Then again, some defamation suits are more about the bad blood between people rather than reality. I think this is one of them. Jonathan Turley has a legal analysis of the complaint here. He says the university has a duty to investigate student complaints, but placing Connell on administrative leave was excessive. He also states that using colleagues in hypotheticals "generates good-faith humor on both sides." None of the news reports indicated Linda Ammons laughed off the incident. I'll say for myself that when I was in law school faculty did not use each other as hypothetical examples where bodily harm was involved. Maybe my law school experience was boring.
I can understand Connell's motivation in filing the suit. He is, if nothing else, moving the inquiry to a forum that may be less biased than the University itself. That should get at the truth of the sordid matter if nothing else. I won't speculate as to what that truth might be, but it's going to be mighty interesting to follow this case in court. More information on this case is in the Philadephia Inquirer and the National Law Journal. [MG]