By Tim Leeds
A claim that First Amendment rights were violated at Montana State University-Northern may not go to court.
Attorneys representing former MSU-N assistant professor Doug Giebel and former dean Stephen Sylvester are negotiating a settlement in Giebel's lawsuit, which claims that Sylvester violated Giebel's right to free speech by removing handbills from university bulletin boards. The handbills advertised a speech by Giebel.
"We have reached a tentative settlement in that case and are trying to reach details," said Assistant Attorney General Norman Peterson, who is representing Sylvester.
The trial had been set for next Monday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls. Judge Sam Haddon gave the parties until Oct. 23 to file a settlement for his consideration, Peterson said today.
Sylvester, reached at Peru State College in Nebraska today, declined to comment while the settlement is being negotiated. He is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Peru, the same position he held at Northern.
Giebel said he doesn't know how long it will take to agree on a settlement.
"My attorneys didn't know. They just reached the agreement a few days ago," he said Friday.
Giebel claims Sylvester tore down handbills announcing Giebel's speech at the university's Conference on Intellectual Freedom in 1996.
The handbills said, "Former MSU-Northern Faculty Member Doug Giebel will speak on the topic The Regents, the Plan and Academic Responsibility.'"
Giebel was one of more than 20 people who applied to speak at the event. Nadine Strossen, national president of the American Civil Liberties Union, was the keynote speaker.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the case should go to trial. Sylvester had asked the U.S. District Court for a summary judgment in his favor. His appeal claimed that if the handbills were, in fact, torn down, that wouldn't violate the First Amendment because the handbills lacked significant expression of content and because Giebel had another forum, the conference, in which to express his views.
The Court of Appeals ruled that removing the handbill from bulletin boards would violate Giebel's First Amendment rights. The Oct. 7 trial was set to try the case to determine whether Sylvester did remove the handbills.
The case is not the first time Giebel has accused Sylvester of improper action.
Giebel taught at MSU-N on a one-year contract in the 1993-94 school year. He applied for the position when the university conducted a search for a permanent teacher, but was not hired.
Giebel filed a suit claiming the hiring search was not conducted properly and that his rights were violated. He lost the case in state District Court, and lost all subsequent appeals.