LANSING — Former University Law Prof. Peter Hammer was handed yet another delay in his lawsuit against the University Board of Regents late last week.
Judge James Giddings said in a Lansing courtroom Friday afternoon that he would have his decision whether the lawsuit — which alleges that Hammer was denied tenure in 2003 because he is gay — will go to trial by late January.
Hammer’s lawsuit has not yet developed to the trial phase because the University Board of Regents has filed multiple summary dispositions, which, if approved by the judge, would keep the case from going to trial.
Richard Seryak, an attorney representing the Board of Regents, filed the summary disposition arguing there is a lack of evidence that the final decision to refuse Hammer’s tenure was based on his sexuality.
The Board of Regents has already filed two previous summary dispositions, both denied by Giddings. His decision in January will determine the outcome of the third.
At the hearing Friday afternoon, attorneys for both sides of the suit argued the validity of the evidence that allegedly shows that multiple votes cast against Hammer’s tenure status were based on discrimination.
Seryak and Hammer’s attorney, Phillip Green, argued over the correct number of votes cast at the tenure hearing. The argument stemmed from conflicting documents about the vote count.
Seryak said there were 32 tenured law professors present at the panel to decide Hammer’s tenure, with a final vote of 18 “yes” votes and 14 “no” votes.
But Green said, however, that the records of the voting panel showed only 30 tenured law professors were present when the final vote was cast, leaving the vote with 18 in favor and only 12 opposed.
Neither tally surpasses the law school’s tenure threshold, which requires that a professor must receive a two-thirds vote of tenured law professors to be granted tenure.
Judge Giddings said he would review all the documents presented in order to make a decision on the total number of official votes cast.
Seryak said, according to his numbers, five opposing votes would have to be invalidated to grant Hammer tenure. And, of the seven votes Green is calling into question for discrimination, Seryak said none of them were rooted in prejudice.
One vote called into question was that of University Law Prof. Richard Friedman concerning his actions prior to and during the vote.
Friedman was helping Hammer look for other professorship options at Ohio State University, sending e-mails to contacts he had there with kind words about Hammer, Seryak said.
Just before going to the tenure vote, Seryak said Friedman called Hammer to wish him luck.
But Green said that at the tenure meeting, Friedman spoke out against Hammer, stating he wasn’t a “mover and shaker,” which Friedman previously admitted to.
Hammer’s lawyer also brought the vote by former University Law Prof. Jeff Lehman under scrutiny. But, Seryak said Lehman, now dean of the law school at Cornell University, was “responsible for bringing gay faculty to the University.”
The votes of law professors Kyle Logue and Bill Miller were also called into question Friday afternoon.
Logue, who Hammer claims was a friend before the lawsuit, is a Sunday school teacher at a Baptist church that denounces homosexuality on its website, according to Green.
Seryak said that participation in such a church does directly show cause for his vote to deny Hammer’s tenure.
Seryak said that Miller could not have been discriminatory because he had mentored an openly gay woman in the past. But Green argued that Miller’s discrimination was only toward gay men.
In the Lansing courtroom Friday, Giddings promised to have a decision made by late January 2010.
This is the third request for summary disposition by the University on this case. If Giddings denies the disposition, a trial date will be set.
The University could file for the case to be dismissed again after the decision is made, in which case a trial will once again be delayed.
Calls to the University’s Office of Public Affairs this weekend were not returned as of Sunday evening.