Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unleash the plan!

Race to the Bottom has good accounts of the morning's Ward Churchill trial action, which was largely Lane grilling DiStefano, in part on the paltriness of the "disruption" at CU caused by Churchill's essay:
Only a small flavor of that emerged, with the mostly monotone and unassertive tone of DiStefano never really capturing the likely maelstrom. David Lane did a good job establishing that the “disruption” never resulted in the cancellation of any class or the need for any additional police on campus, that the “disruption” largely consisted of an increase (albeit a large one) in the number of phone calls and emails, something that at times sounded almost banal. . . .

In other words, the reasons for starting the investigation seemed weak. Indeed, one wonders whether the investigation was designed to buy time and let things cool down, something that might have in other circumstances, actually benefited Churchill. But the case was not made that the University of Colorado needed the time to figure out whether Churchill’s speech was really unprotected.
This afternoon some of the same ground was gone over with former Gov. Bill Owens and CU law school dean David Getches.

Lane got right to it by showing Owens the video of then-CU president Betsy Hoffman saying that Owens told her to "fire [Churchill] tomorrow," and when she told him she couldn't, he replied, "Then I will unleash my plan."

The very depressed looking Hoffman did not quote Owens as adding, "Bwahahahaha!"

Owens, while not flat denying that he'd made the statement, said it sure didn't sound like something he'd say.

Lane moved on to Owens' line-item veto power over the state budget. Did Owens threaten to cut CU's budget? Owens pointed out that the school's budget had gone up every year during the controversy. Lane said that threatening and doing were two different things and, as Race to the Bottom puts it, "suggested that 'unleashing his plan' involved threatening to slash the University’s funding."

To bear this out, Lane brought up an appearance by Owens on Bill O'Reilly's show during which, as the Post says, Owens "seemed to assure the host that he had a strategy for getting rid of Churchill," which Lane suggested included cutting funding to CU, given that Owens on the same show said he had a "bully pulpit" and "budget authority over the budget." Spectators tittered when Owens said that that wasn't a threat, but only a fact. Owens also pointed out that, as the Post quoted him:
"I really did not have a strategy," Owens said today. "What I meant was there is a process that is underway. It was a legal process that was going to go a long time, which I felt, based on the information I had seen in terms of plagiarism and what I had seen, I thought the process would lead to him being terminated."
As he has all along, Owens admitted he wanted Chutch fired right away, but, as he said today, he was "glad the regents chose to do what they did. What the regents did was superior to what I suggested . . ."

CU's lawyer Patrick O'Rourke did a short rehab in which he asked the ex-gov. if he'd ever pressured regents, faculty members, or anyone else to get rid of Churchill for the 9/11 essay. Owens: "I never went to anyone at CU."

O'Rourke: You did not conspire with the university to get rid of Ward Churchill?

Owens: No, I did not.

A juror actually asked a question, the first time in the trial (unless someone asked DiStefano a question). It was kind of dumb: Was Owens more concerned with CU's funding or Ward's First Amendment rights. Owens: they're not mutually exclusive.

Next up, David Getches, CU Law School dean. Lane put up a memo in which Getches called Churchill's 9/11 essay "inaccurate and irresponsible." Getches said Churchill's i and i was manifested in his likening of 9/11 victims to nazis in the "little Eichmanns" passage. Lane, as he has before, claimed Churchill had done nothing of the sort. Getches disagreed, but not very strongly. He also said that, aside from the nazi comparison and the general "tenor" of Churchill's piece, he more or less agreed with Chutch: "I think the U.S.A was undiplomatic [in the Middle East], to say the least."

The crux of Lane's questioning of Getches was what, exactly, got the ball rolling for the investigation into Churchill's scholarship. He asked Getches how, in particular, John LaVelle's article on Churchill's General Allotment Eligibility Hoax had become part of the investigation, and if he'd had LaVelle contact Dalhousie University prof Fay Cohen to get her to formally complain that Ward had plagiarized her work.

Getches said he'd first heard LaVelle complain about Churchill during a car ride in North Dakota after a speaking engagment in 1999. LaVelle, he said, warned that Churchill was trouble, and CU should be wary of him--he was a fraud and plagiarist, etc. Getches said he didn't pay much attention and put it down to normal scholarly disputatiousness.

Lane kept trying to get Getches to admit that after the controversy erupted, he'd contacted Lavelle in order to use his article in the investigation of Churchill. Getches, however, said he'd contacted LaVelle about a copyright release, and LaVelle had spontaneously mentioned CU's Churchill problem with a little "told-you-so," then forwarded his article to CU without Getches' prompting.

Same for Fay Cohen. Lane accused Getches of getting John LaVelle to contact Cohen and have her make a complaint. Under O'Rourke's questioning, though, Getches said LaVelle suggested he call Cohen, but that he didn't because he didn't want to be seen as soliciting complaints. Cohen, he said, called him. And although she never made a formal complaint, O'Rourke put up an e-mail in which she clearly was interested in how CU would proceed with its investigation--without asking Getches not to use her plagiarism complaint against Churchill. (For some reason, neither Getches nor O'Rourke brought up that Dalhousie U's own lawyers found that Churchill had indeed plagiarized Cohen.)

The Jeffries case and "disruption" came up again, with Lane pointing out (as he had with DiStefano) that any alleged "disruption" caused by Churchill's essay was so minimal as to not warrant the description. O'Rourke, though, noted that the Jeffries case says that it takes only a "reasonable expectation" of disruption for administrators to dismiss a government employee, and that Getches had explicitly not gone that route anyway because he thought Churchill's First Amendment rights outweighed the disruption.

Mimi Wesson came up again, with Lane for at least the third time mentioning the (private) missive she wrote seven months before she was appointed to head the investigating committee, in which she compared Churchill to O.J., Michael Jackson, and (horrors!) Bill Clinton.

Bias? What bias? O'Rourke, who's too damn soft-spoken, both to hear and for the circumstances, had Getches point out that Wesson also said that Churchill shouldn't be fired for his essay, and had never otherwise expressed bias toward him.

Don't know this, but I bet Wesson will testify tomorrow. It's probably good if all the intemperate early comments about what should be done with Churchill made by almost everyone in Colorado come out at the beginning of the trial. After Wesson, maybe the focus can finally shift to Churchill's actual scholarly fraud (Mandan! Mandan! Yaaaay, Mandan!).

But so far, I'd say Lane is ahead.


  • Ward doesn't wear his trademark sunglasses when he's sitting up front with his lawyers, but as soon as he's out, and I mean in the hall, they're on.

  • Glenn Spagnuolo (note correct spelling) made his first appearance as a spectator. He and his buddy sitting next to him wore matching red kaffiyas.

  • Met J. Robert Brown of Race to the Bottom. When I mentioned the D-blog he said he'd gotten a lot of hits from it. I think he was confusing me with LGF.

    Anyway, "J-Rob" (as his friends call him) said hits at RttB had gone through the roof. I think his blog could be the Durham-in-Wonderland of this trial (though Brown is much more--neutral?--toward Churchill than KC Johnson was (and is) toward the villains of the Duke lacrosse case and particularly the "Group of 88").

  • One of Brown's students was there as well. She was sitting up front, he said, to observe the jury.

  • Judge Naves is very quiet. He looks at his computer and lets the lawyers do their stuff. Part of that might be because there've been so few objections (so far). When he does speak, it's usually to (very politely) excuse the jury or call for a break. Good deal.

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