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Jurors leave without verdict in University of Iowa bias case

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 11:35 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

DAVENPORT (AP) — Jurors asked for but were not given another look Tuesday at the testimony of a University of Iowa law professor accused of leading the charge against the hiring of a conservative scholar because of differing views on abortion rights.

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated the case of Teresa Wagner for eight hours at the federal courthouse in Davenport before leaving for the evening without reaching a verdict. Jurors were to resume deliberations today in the case, which is being followed closely in higher education.

Jurors asked four questions of U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt as they considered Wagner’s claim that she is the victim of political discrimination whose constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection were violated by the former law school dean. Perhaps most significantly, jurors asked to be able to re-read the deposition testimony of professor Randall Bezanson, a central figure in Wagner’s claims of discrimination.

Pratt denied the request, said Wagner’s attorney, Steve Fieweger.

Fieweger told jurors during his closing arguments Monday that Bezanson helped draft the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion when he was a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun. He reminded jurors that Bezanson had testified that “at some point, I picked up someone saying she was a conservative” during a faculty meeting where professors voted to reject Wagner for two open positions teaching legal writing and analysis to first-year students.

“Give him credit. At least he was being honest,” Fieweger told jurors.

Before she was a finalist for the teaching jobs, Wagner had worked for the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council, social conservative groups that oppose abortion rights. One position went to a liberal who had less experience than Wagner and ended up resigning after a year because of poor performance; the other opening was not filled.

Bezanson testified that no faculty members would ever “be stupid enough” to cite politics as the reason for rejecting applicants. During a brief interview earlier this year, Bezanson denied considering Wagner’s politics and said he would never do so in faculty appointments. A line of professors testified that Wagner was rejected for jobs after she said during a January 2007 interview that she would not teach legal analysis, a key component of the job.

Fieweger argued the law school concocted that reason to hide the real motivation for her rejection: that professors on the 50-member faculty, which included at least 46 Democrats, did not want a female opponent of abortion rights to join their elite club.

Among other things, Fieweger said jurors also asked Tuesday how many times Wagner had applied for full-time teaching jobs that she did not get (three). Jurors also asked about what it means to “act under the color of state law,” a legal definition related to whether former Dean Carolyn Jones violated Wagner’s constitutional rights. Pratt instructed jurors to re-read their instructions.

Experts say that, if successful, Wagner’s case could lead to more litigation over faculty appointments and give courts a greater role in overseeing decisions historically left to universities.