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Court reduces UI’s penalty in fraternity case

BY OLIVIA MORAN | FEBRUARY 23, 2009 7:30 AM

The Iowa Supreme Court reduced the amount the UI will pay in damages and attorney fees to a university fraternity, whose members sued the UI in 2005 over the chapter’s suspension.

The court ordered a district court last week to lower the amount from about $165,000 to roughly $110,000 in damages. Former Vice President for Student Services Phillip Jones will no longer have to individually pay $5,000 in damages as originally ordered by the district court.

Jones couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.

The suit was filed by Phi Delta Theta, whose members challenged the validity of a secretly-made tape that recorded an alleged hazing. The tape led to the revocation of the fraternity’s recognition at the UI by Jones.

UI spokesman Steve Parrott said although UI officials are disappointed with only a partial win, he’s satisfied with the time the court took deliberating.

“We’re especially happy Phillip Jones will have to pay no damages whatsoever,” he said.

In 2001, a prospective member of the fraternity complained to Jones, claiming members of the fraternity violated hazing and alcohol policies.

Elmer Vejar presented as evidence a digital tape recording of a hazing that allegedly occurred on Aug. 11, 2001. In 2002, Jones revoked the chapter’s recognition by the UI for at least one year.

The hazing charges against the fraternity were eventually dropped, but the UI continued to impose sanctions for the alleged alcohol violation. The members appealed the sanction for the violation, and former UI President David Skorton determined in 2004 the years the fraternity went without recognition was a sufficient punishment.

On Feb. 4, 2005, Phi Delta Theta filed a lawsuit against the UI, the state, and Jones.

The chapter won, and the court awarded the fraternity $100 per day between Nov. 19, 2001, and July 29, 2004 — the time the chapter was not recognized by the UI. The total came to $98,300. Jones was ordered to pay $5,000, and the fraternity received an additional amount of $61,660.43 in attorney fees.

In the Supreme Court’s opinion last week, Judge David Wiggins wrote the fraternity could not recover both actual and liquidated compensatory damages. He also addressed the ruling against Jones, stating the fraternity failed to prove Jones acted recklessly and with an intentional violation of his legal duty.

“We are pleased that the court said directly there was no intentional wrong doing,” Parrott said. “We knew all along the officials involved were doing what they thought was right for student safety.”
Parrott said officials are not worried about paying the now $110,000 in damages.


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