Judge to rule on Jones’ suit


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A judge will soon decide the fate of a former UI vice president’s lawsuit against the university.

Sixth District Judge Douglas Russell must determine whether to grant the UI’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit after hearing arguments from attorneys on both sides on Nov. 13.

Former UI Vice President for Student Services Phillip Jones filed the suit against the UI, President Sally Mason, and the state Board of Regents charging defamation and wrongful termination.

Mason fired Jones on Sept. 23, 2008, after he spent months embroiled in controversy surrounding an alleged sexual assault by two former Hawkeye football players. An independent law firm hired by the regents blasted the UI’s handling of the incident in the Stolar Report, which specifically named Jones and former UI General Counsel Marcus Mills as mishandling the case. Mills was also terminated. In the lawsuit, Jones’s attorney wrote the report was “unjustifiably critical.”

Jones alleged Mason used him as a scapegoat to protect herself in front of the regents and didn’t give him a chance to clear his name. Mason never conferred with Jones or anyone in his office about the handling of the investigation, he said in the lawsuit, noting that the Board of Regents were evaluating Mason at the time of his dismissal to determine her retention and salary.

According to the lawsuit, Jones was unaware of the alleged assault until the victim met with UI police almost a month after initially reporting it only to the athletics department. Jones claims he acted in line with the University Code of Student Life to prevent any harassment of the woman.

“It was not a personnel decision. It was a personal decision,” said David Dutton, Jones’s Waterloo-based attorney, at the hearing.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Mark Hunacek, who represents the UI and Mason, tried to persuade Russell to dismiss the lawsuit.

Hunacek argued that defamation does not apply to this case, saying Mason’s statements about Jones’ job performance did not constitute defamation. He also said at-will employers are entitled to hold the companies’ — or universities’ — interest above that of their employees, exactly what Mason did in this case.

A “fundamental inconsistency,” exists in this case, Hunacek alleged. Jones’ attorneys argued Mason was acting in her own self- interest and she was an agent of the state for purposes of wrongful termination. Hunacek said Mason was clearly an agent of the state — which he said makes her immune from libel suits.

The regents backed Mason in her decision, he noted.

Russell said he would review briefs from both sides before making his decision. If he allows the case to move forward, it will enter the discovery phase, where attorneys on both sides seek more information and witnesses. If it is not settled out of court, it will eventually go to trial, though it is unclear when that would be.

DI reporter Scott Raynor contributed to this report.

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