ILNews

Court grants absolute privilege case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court will consider whether absolute privilege exists for communications made in the course of official proceedings brought under a university's anti-harassment policies.

The court granted transfer Wednesday in Virginia Hartman and Suzanne Swinehart v. Dr. Gabe Keri , No. 02A03-0603-CV-135, which comes from Allen Superior Judge David Avery.

Keri became an assistant professor of education in August 2000 at Indiana University-Purdue University - Fort Wayne and was notified in April 2003 that his contract wouldn't be renewed because of unsatisfactory performance. Two students, Hartman and Swinehart, immediately filed sexual harassment complaints against him.

Keri ultimately sued in Allen Superior Court on grounds of defamation, alleging the two graduate students had conspired to commit slander against him. The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment on the allegation of malicious interference with Keri's employment contract but denied it on the defamation issues. The court found a material of fact on the issue of whether Swinehart and Hartman had abused the protection of qualified privilege that had been extended to the anti-harassment proceeding.

The Court of Appeals reversed in a Dec. 27, 2006, opinion and granted summary judgment for the students, holding that "absolute privilege is essential to protect the integrity of the judicial functions embodied by the anti-harassment proceeding."

In a separate dissenting opinion, Judge Carr Darden disagreed with the majority and noted that absolute privilege should not apply, that the statements by Hartman and Swinehart could potentially get qualified privilege protection, and that the Purdue proceedings don't rise to the level of "judicial process." He noted that the proceedings lacked representation of counsel, testimony under oath, cross-examination, and a legal remedy - therefore, the statements must be put to the test.

A date for oral arguments has not been set.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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