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Controversial Professor Wins Lawsuit

Local residents look at a heavy smog from a peat fire in a forest near the town of Shatura, some 130 km (81 miles) southeast of Moscow, Thursday, July 29, 2010. Peat swamps started burning in central Russia following an unprecedented heat wave.
AP Photo
A jury ruled Thursday that the University of Colorado wrongly fired the professor who compared some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi, giving him only $1 in damages but a chance to get his job back.

Ward Churchill was fired on charges of research misconduct, but he maintained he was dismissed in retaliation for his comments about Sept. 11 victims.

Jurors agreed, saying Churchill never would have been fired if he hadn't written an essay in which he called the World Trade Center victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader who orchestrated the Holocaust.

A judge will decide whether Churchill gets back his job as a tenured professor of ethnic studies, after his attorneys file a motion for reinstatement.

"What's next for me? Reinstatement, of course," Churchill said. "That's what I asked for. I didn't ask for money."

When the verdict was read, Churchill hugged his lead attorney, David Lane, and his wife, Natsu Saito.

"I can't tell you how significant this is," Lane said. "There are few defining moments that give the First Amendment this kind of light."

University spokesman Ken McConnellogue said the university will review its options before deciding whether to appeal.

"(The verdict) doesn't change the fact that more than 20 of his faculty peers found that he engaged in plagiarism and other academic misconduct," McConnellogue said.

Churchill's essay touched off a national firestorm, and then-Gov. Bill Owens and other officials publicly called on the university to fire him.

Betsy Hoffman, who was president of the university at the time, testified that Owens pressured her to fire Churchill and said he would "unleash my plan" when she told him she couldn't.

In his testimony, Owens denied threatening the university.

University officials concluded Churchill couldn't be fired because of his First Amendment rights, but they launched an investigation of his academic research.

That investigation, which didn't include the Sept. 11 essay, concluded he had plagiarized, fabricated evidence and committed other misconduct. He was fired on those allegations in 2007.

The university has maintained that the firing was justified.