Widener Law professor sues Dean for defamation

Criminal law professor Larry Connell has filed a defamation lawsuit against Widener University Law School Dean Linda Ammons.  It was filed Friday in Sussex County Superior Court.

“I take this step because there is no doubt that the hanging kangaroo court Ammons has created to try me will soon fire me based on her reckless and false charges that I am a racist, a sexist and a threat to the physical safety of the Widener student community,” Professor Connell said.  He made the statement at a news conference Friday morning at The Neuberger Firm.

Wilmington attorneys Thomas and Stephen Neuberger represent Connell, who has been on administrative leave since before Christmas 2010. Connell has taught at Widener Law for 26 years.

“Ammons has destroyed my reputation because of my conservative political and legal beliefs,” said Connell.

According to the lawsuit, “Defendant Ammons is of the liberal political and legal persuasion… Ammons was offended by plaintiff’s conservative political and legal viewpoints in a law school which she wanted to be totally of the liberal persuasion.”

According to Connell’s attorneys, the allegations stem from complaints filed by two students in his spring, 2010 criminal law class, who were offended by the tenured professor’s use of profanity and his using Dean Ammons as a character in classroom demonstrations illustrating violent criminal cases. Hypothetical scenarios that, Connell says, help drive home the principles of criminal law to students.

“It’s not the same as real property and contract law, it’s just a very, very different kind of class from every other class in law school,” said Connell. “And of course that could be shocking to a first-year student who’s coming into a class, who’s never really experienced these kinds of violent matters before and that’s precisely the point, is to get them to think about what conduct, and what words and the effects they can have on people’s behavior and people’s thinking.”

However, in a letter dated December 10, 2010, Widener Law’s Vice-Dean and Professor J. Patrick Kelly informs Connell similar complaints from as far back as 1996 were recorded in Connell’s personnel file, “that may be relevant to an ongoing pattern of behavior.”

In response to all of this, Dean Linda Ammons emailed this statement:

“I have no intention of responding to his allegations in the news media. However, if there is a lawsuit, it will be vigorously defended and I look forward to the truth coming out in a court of law.

In the meantime, Widener Law will continue to follow University codes for handling the multiple complaints of students against Professor Connell.”

Connell is suing for compensatory and punitive damages.

“I had no other choice but to sue Ammons. The loss of my job will cost me over one million dollars in medical benefits for my permanently disabled and institutionalized daughter Molly… I had to sue now so that I will have the funds to pay for her continued care after Ammons’ vendetta against me for my beliefs is completed and I am fired,” said Connell.

Connell says an informal inquiry committee made up of other faculty members, recommended last month all charges be dismissed against Connell.

It’s not known when Dean Ammons’ Committee of Inquiry, the group reviewing the allegations, will make any sort of ruling.

Connell left immediately after Friday’s news conference. Connell’s 23-year-old daughter suffers from an extreme case of dwarfism and was rushed to a hospital in New Jersey because of a medical emergency. Later that day, The Neuberberger Firm confirmed Connell’s daughter died.

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