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Tuesday
Mar242009

Churchill v. University of Colorado: Churchill’s Testimony and the Jury’s Reaction (Bad News for the Defense)

In one of the more intriguing practices taking place in this trial is the right of jurors to ask questions. After each major witness, they write out questions. The judge and counsel review them then the ones that survive any objection are asked.

In the aftermath of Churchill’s testimony, jurors asked four questions, at least two of them suggesting sympathy for Churchill and the other two allowing Churchill to provide a sympathetic response.

One of them suggested that the arguments of bias by Mimi Wesson, the chair of the investigatory committee, was sinking in. The juror asked: 

  • “You mentioned that you emailed your questions to Mimi Wesson” and she would ask the questions and “sometimes altered” the questions. Is there a record of the hearing and “how would altering it change the outcome of the response?"

The question at least suggested that jurors were considering the possibility of bias in practice rather than just appearance. 

The second question went to whether Churchill had corrected a prior mistake and whether the Investigatory Committee was aware of the correction.

  • Noting that there had been a minor essay with an error and a "major essay" that corrected the error, the juror wanted to know whether the "investigative committee and the P&T committee [were] given the major essay for review?”

Effectively the inquiry seemed to suggest sympathy with the idea that Churchill in at least one instance was willing to correct his own errors.  This is significant since an element of the CU case turns on the unwillingness of Churchill to confess error or feel the need to make corrections.  

The third question was about the ghost written work done on behalf of Rebecca Robbins. 

  • “Did you turn in the work for Rebecca Robbins to be published or did you send work to Rebecca Robbins and” she turned it in.

The question suggests that the juror considers it important whether Robbins in fact approved the contents of the ghost written piece.  It suggests that the juror is not finding it per se invalid for Churchill to have ghost written the piece but is concerned about whether the putative author actually consented to the practice.  Churchill firmly stated that Robbins was the one who submitted the piece although under questioning from O’Rourke he indicated that the answer was based on what he assumed rather than actually knew.

Finally, one juror asked a very blunt question: 

  • “Would all of these allegations have surfaced if not for the 9/11 essay?”

Needless to say, Churchill responded with an emphatic no, noting that the allegations had been floating around for some of the claims and that the University only chose to act after the 9/11 essay controversy.  All and all, the questions (albeit from individual jurors) suggest that they have concerns with many aspects of the Defendant's case and that a number of the Plaintiff's arguments are gaining traction.  

 

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