Judge calls mistrial in U. Iowa liberal bias trial

Topics: From the Wires,

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case of a conservative scholar who claims she was passed over for jobs at the University of Iowa law school because of liberal bias.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Shields called the mistrial in the case of Teresa Wagner after jurors reported they were deadlocked after three days of deliberations. Shields told jurors the move means the case will have to be retried or resolved some other way, such as a settlement.

During a weeklong trial that raised questions about faculty hiring practices, Wagner claimed that the overwhelmingly liberal faculty refused to hire her because she is a Republican who had worked for social conservative groups that oppose abortion rights. She argued that the opposition to her appointment was led by Professor Randall Bezanson who, as a young law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, helped draft the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Professors testified that while they were aware of Wagner’s political beliefs, they passed her over for jobs teaching legal analysis and writing because she flunked a job interview in January 2007. A string of professors and even some supporters of Wagner testified that she botched questions about how she would teach legal analysis, a key component of the job.

Wagner said that claim was fabricated to excuse the political motivations of the 50-member faculty, which included at least 46 Democrats. She said the faculty did not want an outspoken female opponent of abortion rights to join their club. Her lawyer had asked for more than $400,000 in damages, including lost wages and benefits and pain and suffering for “burning her bridges” in the tight-knit legal community of Iowa City.

Conservatives who claimed they had long been passed over for jobs and promotions in higher education had hoped Wagner would prevail because of the evidence of discrimination, which is difficult to prove. The evidence included what her lawyer called a “smoking gun email” in which an associate dean warned then-Dean Carolyn Jones that he worried professors were blocking her hiring “because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it).”

Others in higher education warned that, if Wagner was successful, it would give the courts a bigger role in second-guessing hiring decisions best left to the judgment of universities and likely lead to more litigation.

The trial exposed tension among the faculty and hiring practices that were criticized, including the law school’s decision to erase a videotape of Wagner’s job interview shortly after she was turned down for the jobs.

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