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Thursday, August 13, 2015

U of Illinois begins dismissal proceedings against ex-chancellor amid reports about warnings of criminal sanctions for hiding e-mails in Stephen Salaita case

Phyllis Wise
The University of Illinois began dismissal proceedings yesterday against former Chancellor Phyllis Wise amid online reports that members of the Wise administration had received warnings about possible criminal penalties for hiding e-mails related to withdrawal of a job offer to a controversial scholar.

Wise announced last week that she was resigning as chancellor, while accepting a teaching assignment and a $400,000 payment. UI the next day released e-mails showing that Wise and other top administrators had tried to hide their communications about Stephen Salaita and other sensitive campus issues. But a committee of the UI board of trustees, apparently under pressure from Governor Bruce Rauner, yesterday said it would reject the resignation agreement and begin the process of firing Wise.

Does that mean the university is trying to distance itself from Wise because of fears about a possible criminal investigation? That is not clear at the moment, but online reports show Wise had been warned that civil and criminal penalties were a possibility if she and other administrators tried to conceal their official communications by using private e-mail accounts.

The latest revelations from Illinois raise questions about the possibility that someone engaged in criminal conduct related to my termination in 2008 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)--either by concealing evidence, influencing U.S. Judge William M. Acker Jr. to unlawfully deny discovery in my discrimination/First Amendment lawsuit, or both.

What about warnings regarding possible criminal sanctions at UI? Wise and other top administrators received such a warning last September, according to a report from Ali Abunimah at the blog electronicintifada.net. From Abunimah's report:

In an 18 September 2014 email related to Salaita, Chancellor Wise wrote from her private account that university spokesperson Robin Kaler “has warned me and others not to use email since we are now in litigation phase. We are doing virtually nothing over our Illinois email addresses. I am even being careful with this email address and deleting after sending.”

The very next day, university employees connected with the Salaita matter, undoubtedly including Wise and others participating in the secret email exchanges, received a warning called a legal hold from the university’s external law firm Perkins Coie.

The Electronic Intifada obtained a copy of the legal hold and ran it in full at the bottom of its August 11, 2015, post. Here is more from Abunimah:

A legal hold is standard practice any time litigation is expected and its existence indicates that the outside counsel were being diligent.

Headlined in capitals, “Important legal notice for your immediate attention,” it warns that “Failure to comply with this Notice could subject you and the University to civil and criminal penalties.”

The document reveals that Salaita’s lawyers informed the university’s counsel on 16 September 2014 of their intention to file a lawsuit.

The detailed four-page memo warns emphatically: “Under no circumstances should you delete potentially relevant emails from your computer or from the network server.”

UI released 1,100 previously hidden e-mails last Friday, indicating Wise and others ignored the warning.

Another report comes from Andrew Scheinman, Ph.D., J.D., an attorney who has played a pivotal role in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that brought the UI e-mail scandal to light. At his investigative online site Samizdat-Startups.org, Scheinman presents evidence that Wise likely was advised of her duty to preserve evidence even earlier than September 2014. Explains Abunimah:

[Scheinman] notes that soon after a 24 July 2014 board meeting at which Salaita was discussed, the name of Scott Rice, the university’s in-house counsel, begins appearing in Salaita-related emails previously released to him under FOIA. Everything in the emails is redacted except for Rice’s name.

“This kind of redaction – nothing but the attorney’s name – indicates UIUC is likely claiming attorney client privilege, which it would only do if they were discussing, e.g., a litigation matter such as likely litigation by Salaita,” Scheinman told The Electronic Intifada.

The fact that Wise and other officials expected, or should have expected, litigation long before the formal legal hold was sent out suggests they already had a legal duty to preserve evidence during a period when Wise admitted to deleting emails.

“I would think Rice would have taken great pains to point out to Wise early on his – Rice’s – duty to UIUC – his client – to prevent any UIUC employees including Wise from destroying documents,” Scheinman said.

“My conclusion is that Wise was likely advised of possible or likely litigation as early as 25 July 2014,” Scheinman added.

What does this tell us about the situation at the University of Illinois? It could mean that the ugliness related to a cover-up in the Stephen Salaita case is just beginning, with the looming possibility that the campus' former chief executive will face criminal charges.

What does it tell us about my experience at UAB? It's too early to say for sure, but we will show in an upcoming post that the UAB administration, led then by President Carol Garrison, received notice that I planned to file a lawsuit, that it should ensure related evidence was preserved. We also will show that UAB balked at my notice, even though it ultimately did not have to turn over any evidence because Judge Acker unlawfully granted the university summary judgment without allowing any discovery.

The Salaita case shows that higher-education officials can take extraordinarily dumb, unethical (and maybe unlawful) steps when they are dealing with an employee they knowingly have cheated out of a job. What happened to the evidence that UAB should have been forced to turn over in my lawsuit? What would a FOIA request show about UAB officials and their behind-the-scenes actions in my case? Were UAB officials involved in a possible criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice and encourage Acker to make unlawful rulings in my case?

In other words, did UAB officials engage in a cover-up similar to the one at the University of Illinois? Is it possible that a UAB scheme was even more evil than the one at UI because it led all the way to a federal judge?


Anonymous said...

Hi LS, Did you see this article on Al.com? We need this lady or someone like her to come to Alabama and expose the corrupt good ol'boy network.


legalschnauzer said...

Yes, I did see a version of that story yesterday, maybe at Yahoo! News. Very interesting. I was not aware of the porn and racist e-mail story, which apparently broke sometime in 2014. Sounds like justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were heavily involved in that, with some of the e-mails getting forwarded to people in the AG's office. Should be an interesting story to follow, especially to see if someone is, in fact, trying to ruin the AG's career because she helped bring the sleazy e-mails to light. I would not be surprised if that is what's happening.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on the Illinois story, LS. When I read your first post on this the other day, I wondered, "Why aren't they firing her, instead of shuttling her to a teaching position with a $400,000 payment?" I bet she won't be the last to be fired over this.

legalschnauzer said...

That Pennsylvania story could get pretty explosive. If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the background, here is the key information from AP:

Kane, 49, described the leak investigation and criminal charges as a "stealth political weapon" to oust her from office and block her from challenging a judge's order that she said bars the release of a collection of undisclosed pornographic, racially and religiously offensive emails sent on state computers.

Kane said the campaign to discredit her began immediately after her office uncovered pornographic and explicit videos, images and jokes in hundreds of emails while examining how state prosecutors under her predecessors handled the child sex abuse case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Kane said the email scandal, which surfaced last summer, resulted in six firings, 23 reprimands and two high-profile resignations: state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, who abruptly left office after his involvement was revealed, and a former environmental protection secretary who worked in the attorney general's office when the emails circulated.

She said Wednesday that far more people are involved than previously disclosed and called on the judge supervising the leak investigation grand jury, William Carpenter, to authorize the release of the additional emails.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't share Stephen Salaita's political opinions at all, and I find some of his Tweets about the Middle East to be offensive. But I know he has the right to express those opinions without fear of losing his job at a public university. That UI officials were trying to hide emails about his termination tells me they knew he had that right, too.

Anonymous said...

I clicked on the Electronic Intifada link and read the legal hold that went to top UI administrators. It is very strongly worded, and you would have to be pretty stupid to ignore that warning.

legalschnauzer said...

Glad you read that, @10:25, and I would encourage other readers to do the same. It provides insight about the process of preserving evidence when possible litigation is looming. It appears UI had received what's called a spoliation notice, informing them that a Stephen Salaita lawsuit was coming (unless the parties worked out a settlement) and university officials were to preserve potential evidence. I sent a spoliation notice to UAB's in-house attorney, Lisa Huggins, prior to my lawsuit and will be writing about that in an upcoming post. It would be interesting to know if Huggins sent such a legal-hold notice to President Carol Garrison and others involved in my termination. Somehow, I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure when you questioned your termination at UAB, you had the usual "Oh, you're just a conspiracy theory nutjob" types come out of the woodwork. I'm sure Mr. Salaita at Illinois had the same experience. Well, was there a conspiracy at UI to cheat Mr. Salaita? Yep, sure was. I would say it's well past time for citizens to call for a little transparency regarding your case, to see exactly what kind of conspiracy was going on there.

legalschnauzer said...

You make a very good point, @12:48, and yes, I've received exactly that kind of response from a number of folks. Ironically, some of the first to point fingers and holler "CT" (conspiracy theory) are the supposed liberals at Daily Kos.

I've learned those "liberals," when it comes to court-related corruption, are more interested in cover-ups than exposure. That's probably because a lot of trial lawyers are liberals, at least on the surface, and they don't want the public to know that our court system is rotten to the core because it would threaten their very comfy lifestyles.

In my view, Daily Kos has very little value--is part of the problem, more than part of the solution.

Robby Scott Hill said...

The true loyalty of many of the "Liberal" groups, politicians, lawyers & judges lies with the Dark Side & its Red Shield Bankers. Many of these so-called "Liberals" are double agents who are licensed by the Dark Side to be openly liberal & anti-establishment, while their true mission is to gain your trust & collect information on you which they will eventually be allowed to use to sell you out for dollars. If we were licensed to practice law or operated a bank or a real estate agency, we could be invited into the circle, but we are practically useless to them in our current positions in society. Like an old friend once said, the Juris Doctorate isn't shit without the bar & the practice of journalism is futile unless you can hire a bimbo with big tits to say it on the network news telecast.

Robby Scott Hill said...

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of AmeriKKKa & to the Empire for which it stands: White Power, invisible, with prejudice & injustice for all.

legalschnauzer said...

A lot of these discrimination cases really are about white power, I think. At Illinois, you are expected to be pro-Israel (as many white people are), and the moneyed interests can't handle if you don't toe the Israel line. In Alabama, you are expected to be pro-Bob Riley (as many white people were), and the moneyed interests can't handle it when a blogger points out that Judge Mark Fuller repeatedly screwed the defendants in the Don Siegelman case.

Robby Scott Hill said...

It's not so much pro-Israel as it is pro ZOG or Zionist Occupation Government which is funded by the aforementioned Red Shield Bankers like the ill fated Lehman Brothers where Jeb Bush worked. Lehman was founded in Montgomery, AL on the eve of the War of Northern Aggresion and played a large role in financing that war and the many to follow. If you want political power in the South, you must participate in a circle jerk with Benjamin Netanyahu & Pat Robertson. It's a right of passage to make those guys feel good about how you're going to spend their petro dollars. I have lots of respect for Vladimir Putin because he is determined to be strong and have money without giving the Zionists a hand job. Putin is not afraid to tell Netanyahu & the Zionists to go get fucked.

Robby Scott Hill said...

It's amazing how much attitudes toward the Jews have changed in my lifetime. When I was a boy in the late 70s, the old men in the barbershop talked about how Gerry Ford & Rockefeller were "Christ Killers" & how Wall Street put them in power because Nixon wouldn't bow down to the bankers. They'd talk about how it was time for the South to Rise Again because the only race on the planet worse than the Ni@@ers were the damn Jews, but now the Jew is en vogue. The New Klan loves him & he is seen as a wayward man of faith & future Brother in Christ who simply hasn't heard the Good News enough times to convince him to get baptized. It's the fault of Christians for not spending enough money to convince the Jew to convert. So, send Pat Robertson & Company all your money to enable him to evangelize the wayward Jew.