Judge reinstates motion on evidence in Salaita suit

Judge reinstates motion on evidence in Salaita suit

CHICAGO — A federal judge presiding over Steven Salaita's lawsuit has agreed to reinstate a claim that accuses the University of Illinois of destroying evidence about the decision to revoke Salaita's job.

At a status hearing Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Judge Harry Leinenweber at first said he would allow the university to respond before ruling on Salaita's motion, filed earlier this week. But he then issued a written order allowing Salaita's amended complaint to proceed.

Leinenweber said he will wait to rule on a second motion, asking the court to order the university to preserve evidence in the case, according to Anand Swaminathan, Salaita's attorney at Loevy and Loevy in Chicago. The judge's order instructs the UI to respond by Sept. 3 and Salaita to reply by Sept. 7, and sets a hearing for Oct. 27.

The motions were in response to documents released by the UI on Aug. 7 showing that former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and other officials used personal email accounts rather than university addresses in their communications about the case. In at least one case, Wise stated she deleted emails afterward.

During the hearing, the judge indicated that he'd read news accounts of the email revelations, Swaminathan said.

Wise resigned the day before the documents were released as part of an ethics investigation. On Monday, Provost Ilesanmi Adesida also resigned.

Salaita's motion says that Wise "evaded her obligations" under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act "as well as document-retention policies and practices applicable to university email accounts and servers."

The emails were released the day after Leinenweber rejected the university's motion to dismiss Salaita's lawsuit, allowing it to go forward. In that order the judge threw out Salaita's original claim of destruction, or "spoliation," of evidence, related to a missing memo Wise had referred to in an email. The judge said Salaita had access to the email that described the memo and did not prove Wise violated any statute.

The new motions cited the latest email revelations and warned that "important evidence relevant to this case has disappeared or is in danger of disappearing."

The UI revoked Salaita's job after his provocative, sometimes profane, tweets about Israel in summer 2014, weeks before he was to start teaching.

Salaita's lawsuit argues that the UI violated Salaita's rights to free speech and due process and breached its employment contract with him. It seeks Salaita's reinstatement and financial damages, including compensation for economic hardship and damage to his reputation.

In a recent response to the lawsuit, the UI denied most of the allegations regarding the decision to revoke Salaita's job. The UI maintains that Salaita never had an official contract with the university because his appointment had not been approved by the Board of Trustees.

In June, a Champaign County court ordered university officials to turn over emails related to Salaita's case that had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

UI officials said Thursday they were still reviewing the amended complaint but had no further comment.

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rsp wrote on August 27, 2015 at 1:08 pm

So I need to be reminded or told what exactly the UI told the court at the last hearing about missing evidence, knowing it was coming out the next day. Did they lie to the court? Did the UI conceal it from the attorneys? Am I the only one who wants to know? They had to have already recieved the report before that hearing.

andrewscheinman wrote on August 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm

I think I'd written it on academeblog.org a week and a half ago, my guess is that the UI was hoping the Salaita case would be thrown out.  When it wasn't they had no choice but to release the "supplemental" emails, since those would now have to be produced in discovery, at least to the Judge for possible production to Salaita's attorneys.

If that's true, what it says is that UIUC's claim they "only knew" about the use of personal emails in April is likely also a lie, they probably were told in the fall by outside counsel that, should the Salaita case go forward, they'd be on the hook for ALL emails, including personal ones (if about UIUC business).

The saddest thing, it's as if UIUC went out and bred the dogs they then walked to get the stuff they put in a giant bag and set on fire in order to step in.

I know that's uncouth, but when you consider the cost to the taxpayers, the loss of reputation to UIUC ... there's NOTHING good about this.  Unless it creates some real soul-searching.  Which again means more than just retributive purges by the pro-Salaita supporters; there's already been a lost opportunity for the Salaita supporters to really try to pull in the sciences for an investigation, rather than to simply demand Salaita be re-hired.

Again, no matter what you think of Salaita, the issues here are about lying, abuse of power, and violation of even the remotest concept of "shared" governance.

Andrew Scheinman


Phil S wrote on August 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm

And the hits keep coming.  My advice to the U of I:  Reinstate Salaita and pay him back wages from the time he was supposed to start work at the U of I.  Otherwise, the punitive damages will be brutal.

Esteve wrote on August 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Note to the editor: it's "spoliation" not "spoilation."

Mike Howie wrote on August 27, 2015 at 2:08 pm
Profile Picture

Thanks for your note, though I'm sorry you had to send it. This has been fixed.

Esteve wrote on August 27, 2015 at 11:08 pm

No bother at all. It's actually an awkward word, etymologically: it SHOULD mean 'despoiling' (Lat. spolium, skin or hide), and spoliatio in ancient law meant just that. When it came to mean "destroying evidence" I have no idea, but that very corruption leads English readers to expect the meaning "spoil" rather than "spoils."

rsp wrote on August 28, 2015 at 9:08 am

It's from the latin noun spoliatio which means:

1. The act of plundering or spoiling; robbery; deprivation; despoliation.

2. Robbery or plunder in times of war; especially, the authorized act or practice of plundering neutrals at sea.
3. (law) The intentional destruction of or tampering with (a document) in such way as to impair evidentiary effect.

It said spolium would be the item stolen. So I wonder if it would also be the evidence destroyed.


Skin or hide, I looked because old parchments were written on goatskin that was stretched really thin. Things of value were land deeds, titles, etc. that were written. Maybe that has to do with it. Interesting.

shurstrike wrote on August 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm

I thought the take away from Hillary's destroying of email evidence was that, well, we as a society just don't care.  At least that's what CNN/MSNBC/NBC/HUFFPO want us to believe.

Sid Saltfork wrote on August 27, 2015 at 6:08 pm

This has nothing to do with Hillary's deceptive actions.  It is about the U of I's deceptive actions.  This idea of "personal devices" used to hide communications is even a bigger issue.  Rauner is using the same excuse for his "private" conversations regarding state business.  Public officials of all ranks should be prosecuted for hiding, and destroying conversations regarding public matters.


Rocky7 wrote on August 27, 2015 at 7:08 pm

This case is beginning to remind me of that famous beer commerical of the 1980's - Tastes Great/Less Filling.

Let me fill in the blanks:  Tastes Great (~Freedom to utter profanity-laced hate speech);  Less Filling (~Contract dispute because BOT never approved appointment).

Phil S wrote on August 28, 2015 at 9:08 am

While you're making beer analogies, more intelligent people have actually read and analyzed the tweets and found them NOT to be hate speech:


Maybe I should put this in words you'll understand:  "It's BEER. Hooray beer!"