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Purdue loses appeal bid to shield discrimination, harassment report

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An appellate panel had harsh words for Purdue University’s conduct in shielding a report investigating a former chancellor’s complaint of gender discrimination and harassment against former university president France Cordova.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday affirmed a Tippecanoe Circuit ruling that Purdue could not argue attorney-client privilege or site the work-product doctrine to block the release of an independent investigator’s report to former Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne chancellor Michael Wartell.

“Purdue frets that recognizing equitable estoppel as an exception to the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine ‘would have a chilling effect on the very principles on which [they] were founded,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel in a footnote. “On the contrary, one would hope that it would have a chilling effect on the tactics used by Purdue in this case.”

Wartell filed a formal complaint in 2011 alleging harassment and discrimination against Cordova, claiming among other things that Cordova pointed to a picture of Wartell during a meeting and said, “I am going to replace this one with a woman.” After he reached mandatory retirement age of 65, Wartell was replaced by current chancellor Vicky Carwein.

When Wartell filed his complaint, a process was agreed to by all parties in which an independent investigator would be hired. Indianapolis attorney John Trimble accepted the matter, but Purdue refused to allow Wartell to inspect the report produced after the investigation.

Wartell then sued Purdue, prevailing at the trial court and prompting the instant case, Purdue University v. Michael A. Wartell, 79A02-1304-PL-342.

“Trimble conducted the investigation by interviewing individuals, drafting a report, and submitting it to the Panel (of Purdue Trustees) without disclosing an advocate role,” Crone wrote. “In other words, Trimble conducted the investigation as an independent investigator,” so no attorney-client privilege exists and the work-product doctrine may not prevent disclosure.

But the court ruled that even if Trimble was acting as Purdue’s legal counsel, “Purdue represented to Wartell that it would appoint Trimble as an independent investigator, but then concealed from Wartell that it intended to retain Trimble as its legal counsel; thus, Wartell never had an opportunity to object.

“Based on these facts and circumstances, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that Purdue should be equitably estopped from invoking the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine as to Wartell,” the court concluded.
 

 

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  1. File under the Sociology of Hoosier Discipline ... “We will be answering the complaint in due course and defending against the commission’s allegations,” said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who’s representing Hudson in her disciplinary case. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW ... Lundberg ran the statist attorney disciplinary machinery in Indy for decades, and is now the "go to guy" for those who can afford him .... the ultimate insider for the well-to-do and/or connected who find themselves in the crosshairs. It would appear that this former prosecutor knows how the game is played in Circle City ... and is sacrificing accordingly. See more on that here ... http://www.theindianalawyer.com/supreme-court-reprimands-attorney-for-falsifying-hours-worked/PARAMS/article/43757 Legal sociologists could have a field day here ... I wonder why such things are never studied? Is a sacrifice to the well connected former regulators a de facto bribe? Such questions, if probed, could bring about a more just world, a more equal playing field, less Stalinist governance. All of the things that our preambles tell us to value could be advanced if only sunshine reached into such dark worlds. As a great jurist once wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It (1914). Ah, but I am certifiable, according to the Indiana authorities, according to the ISC it can be read, for believing such trite things and for advancing such unwanted thoughts. As a great albeit fictional and broken resistance leaders once wrote: "I am the dead." Winston Smith Let us all be dead to the idea of maintaining a patently unjust legal order.

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