In this forthcoming series of interview vignettes Attorneys Louis Leo IV and Matthew Benzion, alongside James Tracy and others, discuss Tracy’s 2016 case against Florida Atlantic University, the 10-day trial and misleading “fake news” media circus that surrounded the event, and the unfolding implications for free speech in higher education and broader social discourse.
On September 4, 2015 FAU constitutional law professors protested the university’s arbitrary use of an “Outside Employment/Activities Policy” to suppress faculty members’ off-campus speech. Professors expressed their grievance to FAU President John Kelly and other top administrators at a rancorous faculty senate meeting. Three months later FAU used the same policy as a pretext to terminate Professor James Tracy for his controversial political blog. On September 19, 2019, the FAU policy was scrutinized before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in oral argument .
On December 11, 2017 the jury in the TracyvFAU 10-day trial returned a verdict in favor of defendant Florida Atlantic University. The federal case involved the work of over 12 attorneys and close to 500 separate legal briefs. Yet the decision’s implications for the First Amendment and free speech can be summarized in five minutes. Trial attorney Matthew Benzion discusses Florida Atlantic University’s unlawful use of an “Outside Employment/Activities Policy” to fire Professor James Tracy and restrict faculty and staff speech before-the-fact–a policy that is now effectively part of federal law and can be arbitrarily used to police and reprimand any public employee’s personal activities and online speech.
In 2018 veteran North Miami police officer Ericson Harrell questioned the school shooting in Parkland Florida and subsequently became the target of a smear campaign led by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Because of this defamatory campaign his employer opened an official investigation that eventually led to his resignation after 20 years of service.
Attorney Matthew Benzion, co-counsel in Professor James Tracy’s First Amendment lawsuit against Florida Atlantic University, discusses the behind-the-scenes and unreported legal elements of TracyvFAU transpiring in the lead-up to the 2017 trial.
In this excerpt Louis Leo discusses the free speech implications of the lower federal court’s decisions in TracyvFAU.
To find out more about the TracyvFAU appeal and ongoing federal
litigation against Florida Atlantic University police officers, please visit TracyLegalDefense.org and FloridaCivilRights.org.
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