Monday, March 29, 2010

"Discordant Voices" at Duke

[Update, 3/30: FIRE reports that Duke has reversed its ban on the pro-life group using the women's center--through, in an ironic touch, a letter from director Ada Gregory.]

At this point in time, it’s hard to imagine anything surprising coming from the Brodhead administration—which, after all, has responded to the lacrosse case by promoting numerous members of the Group of 88.

But it’s still possible for a Duke decision to raise eyebrows.

Duke’s Women’s Center claims that that it “welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences.” Yet, as we saw in the campus reaction to the lacrosse case, some “discordant viewpoints” are more equal than others at Duke.

In a line that could almost qualify as a parody of political correctness, the Center asserts that it works “to build a community that acknowledges and supports resistance to racism, classism, sexism, ablism and heterosexism.” The Center also tells Duke women that they can find their “feminist voice” through participating in its programs. In a couple of weeks, the Center will welcome an address from Jessica Valenti, a former volunteer for Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-choice America, on the “enthusiastic consent” standard.

Pro-life Duke women, it seems, are not as valued by the Center. Today’s Daily Caller features a column from Duke student Michelle Barreto, president of Duke Students for Life, who had requested to use a space inside the Women’s Center for what was described as a “Discussion with a Duke Mother,” as part of the campus-wide “Week for Life” event.

A Duke student who’s also a mother—this would seem to represent the type of “discordant viewpoints” the Center celebrates. Instead, according to Barreto, Women’s Center staffer Martin Liccardo vetoed the event, because of its association with a pro-life viewpoint, adding, “We had a very strong reaction from students in general who use our space who said this was something that was upsetting and not OK . . . So based on that, we said we are going to respond to this and stop the program.” I e-mailed Liccardo to ask if he had a response to the Daily Caller column; he did not reply.

FIRE has come to the aid of Barreto: FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley accurately noted that “Duke appears to have an unwritten but officially enforced stance regarding abortion that has resulted in pro-life groups being shut out of the Women's Center.” Since Duke isn’t a public university, it isn’t bound by the First Amendment. But—as we all learned in the lacrosse case—the university purports to value open discussion on campus. As Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, commented, “If Duke wants to be officially a pro-choice university where only women with ‘correct’ views get full access to campus resources, it should stop misrepresenting itself.”

This seems like a pretty clear-cut case of upholding student speech. Will the Brodhead administration do the right thing?

[Disclosure: By the way, I should probably point out that I am pro-choice on abortion rights.]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Meehan Wrongful Termination Suit Dismissed

In the United States, anyone can file a lawsuit. But some are more brazen than others.

In the ranks of people who violated procedures in the lacrosse case, only Mike Nifong exceeded DNA Security lab director Brian Meehan. Working in concert with Nifong, Meehan produced a “report” that didn’t list all the results from his lab’s tests—in violation of state law and lab accreditation standards. That the withheld material just happened to be exculpatory was, apparently, just a coincidence.

Then Meehan tried to bluff his way through the Dec. 15, 2006 court hearing, at first denying that he hadn’t reported all of the tests results, only to admit—under a brutal cross-examination from Brad Bannon—over and over and over again that he had done so. He even admitted that his company didn’t follow its own policies. A few minutes later, Meehan told Jim Cooney that he and Nifong had, in fact, entered into an agreement not to produce the information. A few months later, Meehan gave such a meandering performance in the Nifong ethics hearing that Lane Williamson dubbed him “Mr. Obfuscation.”

Meehan’s conduct exposed his employers to massive legal liability; it’s unknown how much DNA Security has had to pay thus far to defend against lawsuits resulting from Meehan’s performance and inquiries from agencies threatening to revoke DSI’s accreditation. So it should hardly have come as any surprise that DSI fired Meehan—to have kept him on staff not only would have effectively endorsed his handling of the lacrosse case, but would have ensured that no law enforcement agency could ever risk hiring the company again.

Incredibly, Meehan sued DSI for . . . wrongful termination. He brazenly suggested that the company’s reasons for dismissing him were “untrue and immaterial.” (How Meehan could have concluded that his violating state law and national accreditation standards was “immaterial” to evaluating his job performance was unclear.) Instead, the former lab director suggested, he had lost his job because DSI wanted to avoid paying him cost-of-living increases(!).

Meehan wildly added, as the Burlington Times-News drily noted, that DSI’s decision to fire him caused a “loss of professional reputation, mental anguish and emotional distress, loss of quality and enjoyment of life and other damages.” What “professional reputation” Meehan had left after his performance in the lacrosse case the former lab director didn’t say.

This argument was so weak that Senior Resident Superior Court Judge J.B. Allen Jr. of Alamance County granted DSI’s request for a summary judgment and dismissed Meehan’s lawsuit before it ever made it to a trial.

The decision was an obvious one: if Brian Meehan couldn’t be fired for “just cause,” it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which such a rationale would be permitted.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Williamson Appointed to Judgeship

Governor Beverly Perdue has appointed to a vacant Superior Court judgeship Lane Williamson, who presided over the hearing that resulted in Mike Nifong's conviction on multiple ethics charges and subsequent disbarment.

Based on Williamson's performance in the Nifong case, at least, it would be difficult to imagine a more appropriate choice, in terms of both intellect and judicial temperament. North Carolina is lucky to have him on the bench.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Roethlisberger Case

One item from the case is especially notable. As far as I can tell, and despite the heavy media interest, the district attorney, Fred Bright, has made only one public comment. Here it is: "The investigation is ongoing. It would be premature to make any announcement at this time. When the facts are in and a decision is made, we will let you know."

Contrast the tone and contents of that remark to Mike Nifong's pre-primary publicity crusade in 2006. Three days after taking over supervision of the police investigation, and minutes after receiving his first detailed briefing on the facts of the case from the police officers now working under his direction, Nifong was off and running.

He gave interview after interview to local, state, and national media--expressing his certainty that a crime had occurred (as he privately admitted, "We're fucked"), and making racially inflammatory remarks as he began his surge from third place to first among black primary voters. He discussed how he had read the report of SANE-nurse-in-training Tara Levicy--the report that mentioned false accuser Crystal Mangum had claimed her "attackers" hadn't used condoms. He even gave a demonstration--on live TV, no less--of how the false accuser had been "choked" in the commission of the "crime."

During that time, few prominent commentators or members of the media expressed any skepticism about the propriety of Nifong's remarks--TalkLeft's Jeralyn Merritt stands as a significant exception. That said, it's hard to think of a DA in a comparable case (much less a DA six weeks from a primary election that seemed certain to result not only in his defeat but in the new DA firing him) behaving anything like Nifong did.

Bright's comment provides a reminder of how "Minister of Justice" Nifong should have conducted himself in spring 2006.