A jury has ruled in favor of Ward Churchill but has only awarded him $1.
“I didn’t ask for money,” Churchill said to a crowd of reporters after the trial. “It has been found by a jury that I was wrongly fired.”
Churchill, a former professor at CU, gained national attention for an essay he wrote in 2001 titled, “Some People Push Back, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” in which he referred to some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks as “little Eichmanns” after a mid-level Nazi official. The essay came to light in early 2005, and gained national attention.
The former governor of Colorado Bill Owens, as well as pundits such as Bill O’Reilly, criticized Churchill. Soon after the controversy, several University committees allegedly discovered that Churchill had been engaged in academic misconduct, plagiarism and fraud.
In 2007, the Board of Regents voted to fire Churchill, a tenured professor. CU after several university committees allegedly discovered that he had been engaged in academic misconduct, plagiarism and fraud.
Churchill then sued CU and the Board of Regents, claiming that he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for his Sept. 11 essay. The trial finally came to a close on Thursday afternoon after having started at the beginning of March.
Dressed in a vest and striped shirt, Churchill spent most of the day sitting in his chair reading a book, while his lawyers, reporters and several court employees chatted happily with each other. Those partaking in the chatter seemed to think that Churchill was going to win, partially because the jury presented the judge with several questions involving monetary compensations.
“If all but one jury member can agree on a monetary amount for question four, can that person be replaced by another juror?” was one question read to the court by Judge Larry Naves, who answered simply, “No.”
Soon afterward, the six jurors returned their verdict.
The first three questions posed to them were: if Churchill’s Sept. 11 essay served as “a motivating factor” in a majority of the Regents’ votes to fire Churchill, if the firing caused Churchill harm and if Churchill would have been dismissed had it not been for his essay. The jurors decided unanimously in Churchill’s favor on all of these questions. In answer to the fourth and final question, how much money Churchill should be compensated with, the jury awarded the professor a total of $1.
“It took a while and ended quick…what was asked for and what was delivered was justice,” Churchill said after the trial. Churchill then thanked his lawyers, family and “extended family” before walking out of the courthouse.
“I’m going to get some silence,” Churchill said.
Churchill’s head attorney, David Lane, then spoke to reporters, repeating that Churchill did not want money, but did want his job back.
“The law says that reinstatement is the preferred remedy,” Lane said.
According to Lane, Judge Naves will be holding hearings to decide whether to reinstate Churchill.
“There are very few defining moments that give the First Amendment this kind of life,” Lane said.
CU’s spokesman had a different take on the way the trial ended.
“Mr. Lane told the jury a message with their monetary award and I believe they sent that,” said Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the CU system, after the trial. “The way you send a message is through a monetary reward.”
What will happen next for the University and Churchill is a different matter.
“We’ll be talking within the next 30 days,” McConnellogue said of the possibility of Churchill being reinstated, saying that Churchill “certainly” should not get his job back.”
McConnellogue said CU will be considering all legal options, including an appeal.
McConnellogue said Churchill’s essay was a “flashpoint” for starting the investigations against him, but also that “we have maintained all along that this isn’t a First Amendment case.”
They jury had been deliberating since the two head lawyers for either side finished their closing arguments on Wednesday morning.
Contact CU Independent News Gatherer Sam Dieter at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.