Judge throws out efforts to keep Chief
URBANA – A Champaign County judge this morning threw out two lawsuits filed as efforts to get the University of Illinois to retain Chief Illiniwek as its honored symbol.
"I would be telling the university to 'deal with it.' I would be subjecting the UI to many potential consequences and very clearly controlling the actions of the state. This is something that falls within their (the trustees') authority," Judge Michael Jones said. "The relief requested would have this court controlling the actions, the conduct and the liability of the UI. This I am not entrusted to do."
His ruling came at the conclusion of an almost 2 1/2-hour hearing on motions to dismiss suits brought by two UI students who portrayed the Chief and by Champaign attorney John Gadau. The UI Board of Trustees and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the defendants in both suits, had asked the judge to dismiss the claims.
Mattoon attorney Brent Holmes said he would have to confer with his clients, Dan Maloney and Logan Ponce, before deciding if they would appeal. Gadau said he would also have to mull over Jones' ruling.
"I may very well pursue (appeal). The reason being, I think I'm right," Gadau said.
The 12-count suit by Maloney and Ponce alleged that the trustees violated a 1996 statute enacted by the General Assembly that said Chief Illiniwek "is and may remain the honored symbol" of the UI.
"Had the Legislature intended to remove from the trustees the authority to do anything with the symbol, they could have said so," Jones said, underscoring the use of the word 'may' in the act.
He also agreed with the arguments made by Jim Kearns, the Urbana attorney representing the UI, that the students' rights to free speech, expression and academic freedom had not been violated by either the UI or the NCAA in the retirement of the Chief.
Jones noted that the NCAA has not told Maloney and Ponce individually that they may not portray the Chief but it has made clear to the UI the consequences it faces if it continues to hold the Chief out as its symbol.
"The UI has the right to choose what image it chooses to project," Jones said.
Regarding the students' claim that the UI and the NCAA were interfering with their contractual relationship with the school, Jones said the contract they had to perform as the Chief may have been valid but was not enforceable.
"This is an at-will relationship, but one of the parties (the UI) is no longer willing to be part of that relationship," he said.
He also rejected recently added counts claiming a conspiracy on the part of UI President B. Joseph White, Chancellor Richard Herman and board Chairman Lawrence Eppley, saying if there was no underlying claim, then there could be no conspiracy.
Gadau's suit had also claimed that the Chief and the logo are the property of all the citizens and taxpayers of Illinois and that the UI trustees had no right to dispose of them, a claim that Kearns refuted.