Ward Churchill's Colorado Supreme Court loss shows judges protect the powerful, lawyer says
In June, attorney David Lane appeared before the Colorado Supreme Court to argue that former CU-Boulder professor Ward Churchill should be reinstated, since a jury found his firing to be payback for a controversial 9/11 essay.
But on the eve of the latest 9/11 anniversary, the court rejected this bid -- to Lane's consternation, but not to his surprise.
"I have very little faith in judges generally," Lane says. "I think judges, by and large, are appointed by the rich and powerful to protect the rich and powerful's interests in society. That's what their inclination is to do, and I think that's unfortunate."
After all, Lane continues, "no one ever said Ward Churchill's First Amendment rights weren't violated."
Quite the opposite, in fact. Back in 2009, a jury found Churchill was fired in part because of what he'd said -- and awarded him $1 in damages. But as we reported, Judge Larry Naves rejected his request for reinstatement, and his reasoning has now been endorsed at the state Supreme Court level. As noted by the Denver Post, the Supremes determined that the CU Board of Regents acted as a quasi-judicial panel and is therefore exempt from Churchill's lawsuit.
Lane's interpretation? "The Colorado Supreme Court said basically that the regents are too important and powerful to sue, so we're giving them immunity. But the legislature hasn't given the regents immunity -- so this is what the right would call judicial activism. They decided to immunize the regents, because it's the easiest way to make sure Churchill stays off campus.
"There's an old expression: Hard cases make bad law. And this is bad law. Now, the regents can pretty much do whatever they want in terms of violating people's civil rights. They're immune."
Next for Churchill, who, according to Lane, recently moved to Atlanta, is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But while Lane is ready to take this step with him, he's not exactly optimistic about their odds.
"I don't have a lot of hope," he admits. "We should win, because the law should be on our side -- and I think it is on our side. So this is our last shot. But the statistical odds of the U.S. Supreme Court taking this case are pretty slim."
The appeal must be filed within ninety days, and Lane promises that it will be. In the meantime, CU Boulder chancellor Phil DiStefano and CU President Bruce Benson have released statements praising the Colorado Supreme Court ruling. First, here's DiSteafno's take:
[Yesterday's] decision by the Colorado Supreme Court upholds the high standards of academic integrity practiced every day by our faculty, and helps us to ensure the quality of instruction for all our students. It is vital that what is published and what is taught in the classroom be based on research and scholarship grounded in honest, accepted and time-tested methods. This was always what was at stake in this case for the university, and the winners today are our faculty and students.
And here's Bruce Benson's:
The University of Colorado community is pleased that the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously upheld Judge Naves' rulings entering judgment in the University's favor. The court determined that it would be wrong for Ward Churchill to return to a CU classroom because, as several CU faculty panels found, he engaged in repeated, flagrant acts of academic misconduct and dishonesty. Because academic integrity is at the core of the University's mission, today's ruling is a victory for all CU faculty and students.
For his part, Lane reserves his praise for the aforementioned 2009 jury, particularly in comparison to the jurists who've subsequently weighed the case.
"We had a jury that listened to chapter and verse of this case for a month -- and a jury of citizens said Ward Churchill got fired in retaliation for his free speech. We only asked them for a dollar, and they gave us a dollar. But we wanted reinstatement from the court, and even though you had a jury saying, 'Ward Churchill is a victim of First Amendment discrimination,' a group of judges responded by saying, 'We're going to rig it so he loses. We are taking the jury's well-thought-out verdict after a month-long trial and we're throwing it in the trash -- and we're simply saying the regents are above the law."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Ward Churchill's CU rehiring bid reaches Colorado Supreme Court."