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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Free Speech, Higher Ed and Lawsuits

Oregon Refuses to Pay Legal Fees of Law Prof Threatened with Lawsuit Over Law Review Article

Weiner_1Interesting story in this morning's Inside Higher Ed: Twisting in the Wind.

Merle Weiner (Oregon) published Strengthening Article 20, 38 U.S.F. L. Rev. 701 (2004), which argues that Article 20 of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction should be strengthened to offer more protection for domestic violence victims who flee transnationally with their children as part of their effort to escape from domestic violence.  The article made two brief references to a court dispute in one such case and one of the parties to that dispute threatened to sue.

Inside Higher Ed reports that Oregon refused to pay the legal fees of Prof. Weiner in defending against the threatened lawsuit:

Weiner found out this year that even if the university expects her to publish, she was on her own when she faced a threatened suit over one of her articles, even though the university never contested the quality of the article and even though she had obtained legal opinions that she would prevail in court — if only someone had agreed to pay the bills necessary to fight....

When no one would commit to paying the anticipated legal bills, the journal that published Weiner — also unable to pay for a defense — removed from its electronic archive the reference that led to the threatened lawsuit. While the University of Oregon’s lawyer had urged her to have the journal do just that as a way of avoiding a suit, Weiner opposed this action as giving in to a threat and denying her the right to publish her work in full.

She said that the incident has hurt her ability to do her work on domestic violence and raises issues for any scholar who may publish on works that might lead someone to want to sue them. “Any time any alleged batterer wants to threaten suit, I’m going to have to defend myself, no matter how unmeritorious the suit is,” Weiner said. “If my institution wants me to be doing my job, they need to be standing behind me.”

“I never imagined in my wildest dreams that my university would leave me hanging, that any of this would have transpired,” she said. As both Oregon and San Francisco wavered on defending her, she wanted an outside expert to verify that she would win in court. Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the law school at the University of Richmond, reviewed all the materials and provided an analysis that Weiner had a strong defense. He also wrote in his analysis that the case raised academic freedom issues and urged those involved to consider that when deciding how to proceed.

The University of Oregon, however, viewed the matter in a different way. In a statement released by the university, it said that — as was “customary” — Weiner had agreed to indemnify the University of San Francisco against actions arising from the article. While the university was happy to advise Weiner on the case, it did not feel any obligation to defend her, the statement said.

[Courtesy of Paul Caron's TaxProf Blog]

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