Monday, February 13, 2017

When Are We Going to Pony Up, or Through Our Unfathomable Delays, How Much More Money Will We Flush Down the Toilet?

As most of you know, the Circuit Court recently finalized the Crowley judgment. It breaks down like this:

• Compensatory damages: $1,212,552.
• Punitive damages: $2,000,000
• Attorney’s fees (Crowley): $485,289.83
• Interest $573,400.
• Total award: $4,271,241.83

The original verdict on February 18, 2014, cost the university $3,020,000 as follows: $960,000 in Compensatory damages, $60,000 in interest, $2,000,000 in Punitive damages. The university appealed the verdict and award, and on August 28, 2014, the trial judge rejected the appeal and added $318,177.33 in attorney’s fees to the judgement, bringing the total to $3,338,177.33. The final award on January 31, 2017, increased the amount by $933,064.50 by adding $252,552 in “front pay,” another $167,112.50 in attorney’s fees, and an additional $513,400 in interest.

All through this fiasco, the university got itself hammered in court. No one in the judicial system cast a single vote in favor of the university’s position. Instead of realizing the case was unwinnable, the university continued to throw money away on defending the indefensible. Who is responsible?

This damage could have been stopped immediately after the jury verdict if the university had simply paid the judgment, which would have cost it $3.3 million. Given the 14-0 jury verdict and the minimal length of time it took the jury to decide the case, a reasonable person might have concluded the judgment would be difficult to reverse. Nevertheless, Chicago State forged ahead. The two primary decision makers in this fiasco were Wayne Watson and Patrick Cage: two of the principals in the lawsuit, Watson as a defendant and Cage as the person who aided Watson in his “reprehensible” behavior.

Here’s what Judge McCarthy had to say about Patrick Cage in August 2014: he was “impeached by the changing of . . . affadavits submitted in support of [Watson’s] unsuccessful motion filed in front of another judge . . . changed such affidavit within days before this trial commenced.” McCarthy found Cage’s “credibility . . . at issue,” called his testimony “absurd,” and wrote that he failed “to follow the very guidelines/protocol that were in effect at Chicago State University for the termination of an employee.” McCarthy concluded that Cage’s actions contributed to an effort to “crush the Plaintiff,” that the trial revealed evidence that the university’s senior leadership worked to “fabricate evidence of misconduct” against Crowley, and that they took “affirmative steps to destroy the Plaintiff’s current and future work opportunities, reputation and good name.”

The sleazy behavior of our senior administrators should come as no surprise. Who could have stopped it? our upper administration? Hardly, since here at Chicago State, we have a General Counsel who lied under oath and got caught doing it. Shouldn’t such behavior by an attorney result in her/his firing? Not here at Chicago State, after all a President engaging in the same behavior would be unlikely to terminate an employee simply following his sterling example.

Perhaps the Board of Trustees might have been expected to step in to protect the financial interests of the school. However, the only thing they did was approve a June 25, 2015, resolution presented by Cage to “raise the spending limits on certain litigation.” As always, Nikki Zollar, Anthony Young, Spencer Leak, Michael Curtin, and Marshall Hatch failed to protect the school; this time by deciding to throw money away on these absurd appeals and defenses of obviously egregious and illegal behavior. Watson’s interests again trumped the interests of the university as a whole.

Certainly if one reads the “evaluations” of the cases provided by the legal department, it is impossible not to believe the university will be victorious against all opponents. Before the Crowley case went to trial, Cage wrote that “It is the University’s expectation that it will prevail against the claims.” During the appeal process, Cage opined that “the Plaintiff’s probability of success on appeal is low,” and that the “jury verdict awarding punitive damages is more likely than not to be overturned.” I guess Cage forgot to tell the Illinois Appellate Court or the State Supreme Court. Continuing his string of accurate predictions, Cage also indicated that in the Meeks case (settled by the university for $1.3 million), “defendants are more likely than not to prevail.” Really, what does someone have to do around here to lose his job?

Now we come to the present. Even though we may still be liable for additional expenses if they university does not expeditiously pay the judgment, we are still delaying. As of Friday, we had not complied with the court order. I estimate that additional “front pay” and interest on the unpaid balance comes to about $1025 per day. Obviously, there are also likely additional attorney’s fees being accumulated. When do we finally pay the price for the illegal and unethical behavior of our administration? When do we finally stop bleeding money for our administrative misconduct? We have a new Board, do they know anything about this history? Does the current Board Chair, a holdover from the Watson days, feel any sense of urgency to address these issues? Those questions remain unanswered.

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