Thursday, August 28, 2014

Welcome Back Crowley! Judge to CSU: "The public has been made aware of questionable misconduct at Chicago State University and the public may hold the responsible officials accountable so as to deter any future misconduct..."

Well this is where we work. We can talk all we want "about the good things that we do," but this is us in this "landmark" case, a poster-child for political corruption. Well, when you run a university like a political ward this is what you get. How many politicians will we need to prop us up this time? How many more p.r. statements tut-tutting this away? And how many more "harshly worded" statements from judges will we have to endure? -- there are more lawsuits out there to come...

And who explains to the ILL taxpayers that they are the ones footing the $3 million bill? The Board of Trustees? the Governor? or Dr. Watson himself?

Stray thoughts on a late summer's eve: imagine what it would be like to work, to teach, to be part of a university where you actually believed and trusted in the leadership? Chimeras, alas.

Judge upholds verdict in Chicago State University whistleblower case
James Crowley

By Jodi S. Cohen and Stacy St. Clair
Tribune reporters
August 28, 2014 

Judge upholds $3 million whistleblower judgment against Chicago State University
Chicago State whistleblower should get job back, plus $3 million, judge says

A Cook County judge Thursday upheld the verdict in a landmark whistleblower case against Chicago State University, ordering the public institution to pay the fired employee more than $3 million and give him back his old job or face further financial penalties.

Chicago State had appealed the verdict on several issues, including that the jury foreman did not disclose during jury selection that he had been sued in a wrongful termination case brought by a relative of a Chicago State trustee. The university also claimed the damages were excessive.

In a 44-page, harshly worded opinion against Chicago State, Cook County Judge James McCarthy said there were no reasons to overturn the verdict and that the large sum was intended to send a message. The jury had found that former university employee James Crowley was fired in 2010 in retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct by top university officials, including Chicago State President Wayne Watson.

The verdict is believed to be the first stemming from a whistleblower claim filed under the state ethics act, which sets out guidelines for behavior by employees and includes protection for employees who disclose activities they believe violate the act.

McCarthy said that although taxpayers and students "eventually pay this bill," Illinois' history of public corruption makes such awards necessary.

"The public has been made aware of questionable misconduct at Chicago State University and the public may hold the responsible officials accountable so as to deter any future misconduct," he wrote.

The jury deliberated for 30 minutes in February before ruling in favor of Crowley, a former university attorney, after a two-week trial. The university was ordered to pay Crowley more than $3 million — $2 million in punitive damages and more than $1 million in back pay. Crowley, 48, was also ordered to be reinstated to his job.

In Thursday's decision, McCarthy increased the amount the university may have to pay. He ordered the university to pay $318,000 in attorney fees and found that, if the university doesn't reinstate Crowley, it will be ordered to pay him "front pay" from Thursday until any appeals are resolved. Crowley's salary had been $120,000 a year.

"Potentially, the clock on what Crowley continues to get in this case continues to run unless they reinstate him," said Crowley's attorney, Anthony Pinelli. "The verdict has been upheld in its entirety."

A Chicago State spokesman said the university will appeal. "Obviously, this is a unique case. We do feel with all the facts that came to light before and after the case, we feel we are in a good position for an appeal," said spokesman Thomas Wogan.

Among the issues revealed after the case was that the jury foreman, Antoine Bass, did not disclose before trial that he had been sued in a wrongful termination case brought by a relative of a university trustee, nor that he was involved in other litigation.

McCarthy — who questioned Bass about his omissions during a post-trial hearing — ruled Thursday that the foreman was not "intentionally dishonest" and had little influence on the quick jury deliberations.

In its motion for a new trial, Chicago State also claimed the trial judge committed errors and the state's whistleblower law was wrongfully applied.

McCarthy batted down all of those claims. He also cited several reasons for refusing to throw out the multimillion-dollar judgment, including because the university tried to destroy Crowley's work opportunities and reputation.

"Any reasonable fact-finder would be quite convinced by the evidence that defendants went out of their way to crush (Crowley)," the judge wrote.

McCarthy also found "dubious" Chicago State's claim that it could not reinstate Crowley because it would displace other employees, saying the institution employs hundreds of people.

"I am grateful that the judge's opinion totally vindicates me from any wrongdoing," Crowley said. "I appreciate the jury's verdict and the court's ruling on these issues. Having been a trial attorney for the attorney general's office, it's been an interesting view of our legal system as a plaintiff, and I'm happy to say it worked."

Crowley's lawsuit — filed against the South Side university, Watson and the seven trustees on the board in 2010 — alleged that he was fired after he refused to withhold documents about Watson's employment requested under the state's public records law, and for reporting questionable contracts to the attorney general's office.

The university argued he was fired due to improper financial dealings and misuse of university resources.


  1. The Chicago State Board of Trustees should come out with another statement praising and supporting Watson and his "vision." Here's what this has cost us so far: $2 million in damages, $960,000 in back pay, $60,000 in interest, $318,000 in attorney fees (for Crowley) untold hundreds of thousands spent in defending, not the university, but Wayne Watson. I estimate the total price tag to be in the range of $3.6 million. Of course, the university is going to throw more money away on appeals. By the time they're finished, this is likely to cost the school better than $5 million.

  2. Congratulations, every time you guys win one I worry a little less about the defamation lawsuit threats I get from the University of Oregon administration for my blog,