Saturday, March 08, 2008

Marathon Pundit exclusive: Van der Hooning wins five of six counts in case against Univ. of Illinois

I just got off the phone, yeah it's late, with Robert van der Hooning, the former University of Illinois Assistant Dean who spearheaded the recruitment of War on Terror veterans into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Executive MBA program in Chicago.

And he's in an upbeat mood, as he and his lawyer, Michael Shakman, just won a stunning legal victory over the university.

"The big thing," van der Hooning told me with a sense of relief," is an Illinois Court ruled against U of I and now the case will be heard. This is the first step in restoring the university’s commitment to military veterans and a baby step in reclaiming my reputation." The biggest loss for U of I is that their motion to dismiss van der Hooning's suit was denied in strong language. "It's been hard because it was just my word against several people at U of I who said I was lying. The Court looked at the facts and the law, my side of the story and U of I's side of the story, and the Court rejected U of I's arguments."

In total, the school lost on five of six counts that were heard on September 12 by the Illinois Court of Claims, a hearing I attended. The only count U of I won – the Court refused to prevent U of I from firing van der Hooning – was because the case took 18 months to decide so far and van der Hooning has been out of his job for over a year already. The Illinois Legislature has not given the Court of Claims power to make people like van der Hooning whole until after a trial.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Van der Hooning was forced out his job at the university for standing up and saying "No" as the school went back on its word to award 110 full-ride scholarships to War on Terror veterans for the 2006-07 academic year. He objected to the University changing admissions procedures for veterans and using his signature on a letter he did not write. (I've seen the letter.) University spokespersons later explained, not convincingly in my opinion, that the scholarships were meant to be distributed over a three year period. These same spokespersons were recently exposed through their own e-mails and internal documents as not telling the truth and the scholarship program was dropped. Even Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn sent the U of I Board of Trustees a sternly-worded reprimand letter a couple months ago.

Amazingly, since it's a tough task in Illinois to prove defamation, the university lost on the defamation charge. They also lost on the Retaliatory Discharge claim, and interfering with van der Hooning's job search.

The court also sided with van der Hooning on the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, known as the Whistleblower's Act, but said it didn't have the power to reinstate him at this point.

Regarding the count that van der Hooning lost, Preliminary and Injunctive Relief, the Court of Claims ruled that the Illinois State Legislature doesn't grant it the power to give van der Hooning his job back.

As the Court of Claims explained in its ruling:

" a practical matter, even if we were to grant the relief requested, the Court does not have any means to enforce it--if the University were to refuse to reinstate the employee as directed by the Court, the Court has no contempt powers and cannot direct the sheriff or marshalls to take the agency director into custody."

The Illinois state legislature, van der Hooning explained, "didn't give this court the power to enforce its rulings, according to what they wrote in their decision. If it takes three years to get my job back, that's a powerful motivator for anyone else facing a similar ethical and legal problem, because nobody wants to be without a job three years before getting reinstated. The financial impact on me and my family is huge. It's less costly to keep your mouth shut and look the other way, but I think that's exactly the real-world tradeoff the legislature was trying to help state employees avoid. I think the impact on veterans who were promised this opportunity and then denied it paid a higher price, though."

"What's next?" is what I asked van der Hooning. He didn't know, because his lead attorney Michael Shakman is out of town.

The good news, no... make that the terrific news is this: van der Hooning has begun to get his good name back. He wins, and the University of Illinois , my alma mater, will be held accountable someday by a Court with the teeth and power to enforce its decision. Or at least they will be held accountable in the Court of public opinion.

The "little guy" that stood on principle which cost him everything had a good day in court. And he’s still hoping the veterans will get their scholarships back, too.

There is more, much more to come on this story.

Thanks for the link:

Blackfive (Wow!)

Related posts:

Scandal update: Lt. Gov. Quinn wants count of vets in Univ. of Ill. MBA program

Broken promises: How "jarheads" got shunted aside at the University of Illinois: A Marathon Pundit series

Marathon Pundit Exclusive: What happened behind the scenes of the University of Illinois veteran scholarship scandal

University of Illinois: "Hookers are Praised as Soldiers" –Marathon Pundit's Third Investigative Report

University of Illinois military scholarships scandal update

Exclusive: Van der Hooning, and Illinois vets, get a hearing at the Court of Claims

Marathon Pundit exclusive: Lt. Gov. Quinn's letter to U of I president about military scholarship scandal

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Cal Skinner said...

Outstanding coverage!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for covering this, John. You're the only source I've seen to follow it through.