Jim Dey: Settling makes good dollars, sense

Jim Dey: Settling makes good dollars, sense

The University of Illinois settled the Steven Salaita lawsuit a few weeks ago, paying the would-be professor $875,000 to go away.

Of that amount, $600,000 was for Salaita, the onetime English professor at Virginia Tech who was slated to join the UI's American Indian Studies faculty until word of his ill-advised tweets came to the attention of university higher-ups.

The other $275,000 was for Salaita's lawyers. That's not exactly chump change, but it's nothing compared with the $1.3 million the UI's lawyers charged for their overpriced services.

The UI defended the Salaita settlement on the grounds that it would be substantially cheaper than going to trial, spending more millions on their lawyers and taking a chance on losing.

Measured strictly by dollars and sense, the decision was a no-brainer.

So look for a similar outcome in the case of a group of former members of the UI women's basketball team who filed a federal lawsuit against coaches and administrators over what they allege was the abuse they suffered while members of the team.

Officially, the lawsuit still is in its preliminary stages.

Naperville lawyer Terry Ekl, who is representing the players, said the UI has filed a motion to dismiss the litigation. He is preparing a response to the motion to dismiss that is "not due until the end of January."

That leaves plenty of time between now and then for Ekl and UI lawyers to hammer out an agreement that avoids months, or years, of costly litigation.

Ekl wouldn't publicly confirm that he and UI lawyers are trying to work out a settlement. But he did say that's what "good lawyers" would do.

Ekl's track record demonstrates that he's a good lawyer. Given what the UI is paying for legal representation, they presumably have good lawyers, too.

Besides, President Tim Killeen and interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson want to clear the deck of problems that cause negative publicity, and this is one of them.

In other litigation...

Speaking of Ekl, he's also involved in a high-profile lawsuit in Chicago alleging that former Northwestern University journalism Professor David Protess framed an innocent man for murder to help spring a guilty man who had become the poster boy for death penalty opponents.

The case drew front-page coverage in Chicago and spawned a documentary that described how Protess, who had the reputation as a crusading journalism professor who helped to free the wrongfully convicted, framed Alstory Simon.

The 65-year-old Simon served 15 years in prison before he was freed, that decision coming after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez concluded there were serious improprieties in his prosecution.

Prior to Simon being charged in the case, career criminal Anthony Porter was convicted of murder for killing two people and sentenced to death.

The Porter case helped persuade former Gov. George Ryan to commute the sentences of everyone on death row. In 2011, the General Assembly repealed Illinois' death penalty statute.

Ekl's lawsuit names a number of defendants, including Professor Protess's deep-pocketed former employer, Northwestern University.

He's alleging malicious prosecution of Simon by Protess & Co., a fairly novel claim given that private citizens are rarely sued for malicious prosecution.

But the facts of this case are unique, and Ekl said "there is case law that supports our position."

Lawyers for the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, and the issue has been fully briefed by both sides. Ekl estimates a ruling will take "maybe three months."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on December 17, 2015 at 1:12 pm

Add the possibility that e-mails, and other non-public communication might come to the surface.  Settle all outstanding lawsuits now so nothing leaks out.  Now is the time to clear the decks, and start all over.  Otherwise, the citizens of the state may become aware of how the university operates.

andrewscheinman wrote on December 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

As I recall the university spent at least 100K to argue that the Salaita FOIA filings for 10,000 emails shouldn't go forward because the public interest in those emails was "no more than the interest in the Kardashians," or some such lawyer-induced brilliant argument.

As I recall from FOIA law, the loser in a FOIA suit has to pay the winner's legal fees, so that would mean UI not only paid the 100K to its own lawyers but also the costs for Salaita's Chicago counsel in that FOIA suit, that's NOT the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), but rather Loevy and Loevy, so more $$$$$$ for UIUC to pay.

As far as that 1.2M UIUC spent on its own lawyers, query how much went to pursuing the INTERNAL ethics investigation by those expensive Chicago lawyers when they had to investigate Wise's hiding/shredding emails.  That wasn't $ wasted on the Salaita case -- that was $ wasted on Wise and co.'s hideous malfeasance.

Oh, but she didn't know you had to produce personal emails.  And yet when you go through the old emails there are plenty that expressly say that all emails regarding university business are subject to FOIA.

Good thing that Wise has moved on to developing curriculum for doctors ... it's not as if THEY have high standards of ethics to uphold?