A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a lower court decision that the South Orange County Community College District chancellor acted unconstitutionally when he disciplined a professor for criticizing the administration in satirical newsletters.
"It's a victory for free speech and for those willing to report honestly about the incompetence and misbehavior of people in positions of power," said philosophy professor Roy Bauer. "I certainly hope the chancellor and the board learned a lesson, but judging on past behavior . . . they will continue to run the district into the ground."
But the court ruled that U.S. District Judge Gary Fees went too far in ruling the community college district's workplace violence policy unconstitutional.
Bauer sued after Chancellor Cedric Sampson in December 1998 ordered him to seek anger management counseling and placed a disciplinary letter in his file. Sampson also said Bauer violated the district's antidiscrimination policy.
Bauer sued, and Fees ruled in his favor in October 1999. He awarded Bauer's attorney, Carol Sobel, $127,000 in fees and costs. With interest and the fees from the appeal, that figure has grown to around $200,000, Sobel said.
David Larsen, the district's attorney, said the board of trustees will have to decide whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.