University of Colorado Boulder visiting conservative scholar John Eastman is pursuing a lawsuit against campus and system leaders, alleging that they defamed and retaliated against him following his involvement in a rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Attorneys for Eastman on Thursday filed a notice of claim, which is a prerequisite for initiating a lawsuit, and named the CU Board of Regents, CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano, Provost Russell Moore, Colorado Law Dean James Anaya and Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization Daniel Jacobson.
Eastman is seeking $1.86 million in damages, including 10 years of pay at $185,000 per year for reputational harm and $19,835 left in his research account at the university. The claim accuses CU leaders of defamation, breach of contract, retaliation, violating the school’s discrimination policies and not following due process.
Eastman drew condemnation from the university community and campus leaders for his remarks at the Jan. 6 rally for President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., which included unproven claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election. His classes were canceled, with university leaders citing low enrollment, and the campus stripped him of his public speaking and representation duties at the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization, where he is a visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy.
Eastman had previously sparked outcry with an Aug. 12 Newsweek column in which he questioned then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ citizenship. Eastman was criticized by the campus community, including in an open letter from students, faculty and staff. Eastman alleges that Anaya blocked him from teaching at Colorado Law because of the Newsweek column, according to the notice of claim.
The claim also alleges that communications from DiStefano, Jacobson and Anaya to the campus community were defamatory and that after Eastman’s classes were canceled, he was prevented from communicating with established or new students, though the claim does not specify how that was accomplished.
“I am taking this step in part to vindicate my own constitutional rights to freedom of speech and to due process,” Eastman said Thursday, speaking at a news conference near the Colorado Law building at Broadway and Baseline. A crowd of approximately 30 people attended, many waving flags and holding signs with messages of support.
“But even more importantly, I am taking this step because my role in this whole controversy puts me in a position to take a stand for other professors who may, as a result of what has been done to me, be cowed from their own exercise of First Amendment rights, choosing self-censorship instead of the gauntlet of hate and vitriol to which I have been subject,” Eastman continued.
In a statement, CU Boulder spokesperson Andrew Sorensen said CU Boulder’s decisions regarding Eastman were made in accordance with university policies on freedom of expression and academic freedom, and Eastman has been able to continue to speak on any subject he wishes and pursue scholarship.
“The university, however, is not constitutionally obligated to have him serve in a representational capacity when he exercises his right to free speech,” Sorensen wrote.
Eastman has retained Aurora attorney Randy Corporon and Cherry Creek Chronicle publisher Chuck Bonniwell as his legal counsel, both of whom spoke at the news conference.
Corporon described CU Boulder’s actions as abhorrent and said he was embarrassed by what the institution has turned in to.
“The university has taken remarkable steps to cancel the voice of my client,” he said.
Don Eron of the Colorado chapter of the American Association for University Professors also spoke in support of Eastman at the news conference, stating that by punishing Eastman without following due process, the campus “has succumbed to mob rule.”
“In doing so, it has punished all of us who cherish academia’s role in pursuing the common good,” Eron said.