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State to appeal award to U of I fraternity

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

January 26, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

The Iowa attorney general's office plans to appeal a court ruling this week ordering the state, the University of Iowa and a university administrator to pay a fraternity nearly $128,000 for the U of I's decision to use an unauthorized tape recording to impose sanctions on the group.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner ordered the state, the U of I and Vice President for Student Services Phillip Jones to pay the Iowa City chapter of Phi Delta Theta $98,300 in compensatory damages and $24,444 in attorney fees. Jones was ordered to pay an additional $5,000 in punitive damages.

The case involves a tape recording obtained in August or September 2001 by a former Phi Delta Theta member who had a grudge against the fraternity, Turner wrote. Elmer Vejar, who had failed to become an initiated member and was no longer authorized to live in the house, placed a voice-activated recorder in the fraternity's chapter room to record conversations that he said documented hazing activities, the ruling states.

While hazing allegations were ultimately dropped against Phi Delta Theta, the court found Jones later used the unauthorized tape "against the fraternity by imposing disproportionately harsh sanctions under the pretext of a single alcohol violation."

The court also found that the U of I's decision not to allow Phi Delta Theta to participate in organized recruitment activities contributed to the group's financial failure.