Ex-UNR Whistleblower in Contempt of Court, Fined $25,000

By  | 

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A Nevada professor who claims he was fired earlier this month in retaliation for blowing the whistle on animal abuse at campus research farms has been found in contempt of federal court and ordered to pay a $25,500 fine.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan ordered Hussein S. Hussein and his lawyer, Jeffrey Dickerson, to pay the money to the Reno law firm that has been representing the University of Nevada, Reno in a series of lawsuits since Hussein first complained to federal authorities about abuse of university research animals in 2004.

The two are appealing the previously undisclosed contempt order issued March 28 to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Dickerson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

As of last summer, the university had been named as a defendant in 11 lawsuits Dickerson has filed on behalf of Hussein, an internationally recognized animal nutritionist. A federal investigation sparked by Hussein's complaints concluded in 2005 that the university mistreated research animals, and the school agreed to pay an $11,400 fine to settle the case.

Mahan said that when Hussein and Dickerson filed their 12th and 13th lawsuits last fall, they were in contempt of an injunction imposed by the court last July to prevent the filing of future "vexatious" - or annoying - litigation.

The judge said the injunction was issued because the various lawsuits already had overlapping claims. He said the two most recent suits were an attempt to "relitigate" claims that already have been dismissed.

"The harm from Dr. Hussein's and Mr. Dickerson's willful noncompliance with the injunction extends not only to defendants but to the judicial system as a whole," Mahan wrote in an April 4 opinion.

"The proper functioning of the judicial system cannot tolerate such blatant disregard for the orders of the court," he said.

Mahan ordered the fine by paid to cover fees and costs incurred by the law firm McDonald Carano Wilson, LLP, but agreed to stay that order after Hussein posted a bond with the court pending appeal.

"This is the same law firm that has been collecting Nevada taxpayers' money defending against my retaliation lawsuit," Hussein said Wednesday. "My lawyer and I did nothing wrong, and we are confident we will reverse the contempt order on appeal,"

Dickerson said the ban on filing lawsuits is unconstitutional.

"Dr. Hussein has the constitutional right to access the courts, just as any citizen does," he said.

The contempt order is especially unusual because the judge had recently cleared the way for one of Hussein's four-year-old discrimination suits to go forward by rejecting UNR's motion to
dismiss the case, Dickerson said.

"We expect to have a trial in the fall of this year. Terminated or not, Dr. Hussein will have his case heard by a jury of his peers," he said.

UNR President Milton Glick fired Hussein on April 10 and banned him from campus. Hussein intends to file an appeal of that decision with state Board of Regents this week, in time to be heard at its June 12 meeting.

"Dr. Hussein looks forward to an objective review of the president's decision," Dickerson said.

Glick's decision to fire Hussein ran counter the findings last month of Peter Breen, a former Washoe District Court judge who served as special hearing officer in the disciplinary hearing over plagiarism that led to Hussein's dismissal.

The hearing was based on claims that Hussein plagiarized his graduate students' work and misrepresented money given to support his research in order to improve his laboratory instead of paying a portion of the funds to UNR for overhead costs.

In a 28-page report, Breen found that Hussein did conceal the contractual nature of three research projects, preventing the university from collecting $377,000, but that his actions did not merit being fired.

Breen's report was made to a four-member faculty committee, which made a disciplinary recommendation to Glick.

Hussein also faced a disciplinary hearing in 2005 on a charge that he violated university regulations by hiring a Reno veterinarian to examine research pigs he thought were being abused. That charge was later dismissed.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)