Mark Leffingwell
Former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill talks to reporter after an appeals hearing in Denver, Colorado October 20, 2010.

Tracking Ward Churchill’s case

Last we knew: The Colorado Court of Appeals in November upheld a district court judge’s decision to deny giving Ward Churchill his job back at the University of Colorado. Churchill, who was fired from his tenured professor job, and his attorney took their appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Latest: The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday announced it will hear Churchill’s appeal, reviving the free speech case.

Next: Churchill’s attorney expects oral arguments to take place in early 2012 and a ruling likely issued later in the spring.

Ward Churchill’s free-speech case against the University of Colorado will be revived in the Colorado Supreme Court — and the fired professor’s attorney says Churchill wants his job on the Boulder campus back.

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear Churchill’s appeal, including one key argument about the quasi-judicial immunity doctrine that Churchill and his attorney argue is threatening academic freedom and tenure, and chilling free speech at universities.

“When the regents violate the Constitution, should they be on the hook for it?” said Lane today. “The lower courts have said ‘No,’ and the Colorado Supreme Court is going to chime in and we’ll see what they say.”

A three-judge panel with the Colorado Court of Appeals in November upheld a district court judge’s decision to deny giving Churchill his job back.

The appeals court ruled that former Denver Chief District Judge Larry Naves was right to rule in favor of the university by finding that the school was entitled to “quasi-judicial immunity” in terminating Churchill from his job as an ethnic studies professor in 2007.

“Every judge that has heard this case has ruled that the university acted appropriately when we terminated Churchill,” said CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue. “We believe the Colorado Supreme Court will do the same.”

CU’s regents voted 8-1 to fire Churchill nearly four years ago because of academic-misconduct violations. Faculty members tasked with investigating Churchill’s body of work found patterns of plagiarism, fabricated facts and other academic-misconduct violations they said were deliberate.

Churchill sued the university, alleging he was really fired because of his controversial speech. The professor’s 9/11 essay ignited national furor because it called some victims “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who helped carry out Hitler’s plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews during World War II. Lane expects that oral arguments at the supreme court level — which have not yet been scheduled — will happen at the beginning of 2012 and a ruling could be made by that spring.

“It’s huge,” Lane said. “First, they hear a small fraction of cases that come before them. It’s more shocking that they’ve agreed to hear all three issues that Churchill has asked them to hear.”

In addition to reviewing whether granting the regents quasi-judicial immunity comports with federal law, the Supreme Court will consider whether CU violated his First Amendment rights and whether Churchill can be given his job back.

CU attorney Patrick O’Rourke argued before the Court of Appeals last fall that all of the university’s scholars should be able to defend their scholarship should it be challenged on the grounds of plagiarism or findings that aren’t sourced. O’Rourke said professors are protected if their work shows a difference of popular opinion or alternative interpretations of data. He said it would be inappropriate for the university to rehire Churchill because he’s stated hostility toward the university, and his patterns of misconduct would hurt fellow professors and devalue the degrees of students.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or

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