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COURT SETTLEMENTS NET UND OVER $250,000 IN LOSSES***

UND has rung up a legal bill of $115,000 in state funds for a recent out-of-court settlement in a sexual harassment suit brought by a former psychology professor. The figure is nearly half the amount UND has filed in claim from the State Insurance Reserve Fund since Herald investigation found. Those UND legal experts or losses total nearly a quarter-million dollars, according to the North Dakota University System office in Bismarck.

The latest claim will be paid out of the state insurance pool to Sheila Deitz, now teaching at the University of Denver, and to attorneys on both sides. Deitz filed a federal court lawsuit in April 1992 saying that she and other women in the department during the late '80s had been exposed to an atmosphere of intimidation and other unwelcome behavior from the male professors. The former director of clinical training for the UND psychology department also claimed she was passed over for re-appointment, as a result of her complaints of harassment. UND said it was not liable for any of the alleged actions, and denied wrongdoing by university officials or faculty. Even so, Deitz case turned out to be the most expensive among four UND settlements totaling $234,857 in the past three years. Lawyers for UND and Deitz refused to give details of their out-of-court agreement this spring. State open-record laws, however, do not apply to claims that the state Insurance pool agrees to pay. Those figures were made available at the Herald's request.

The Bismarck-based reserve fund, headed by Executive Director Steven Spilde, has a policy of not releasing information to the public, unless requested through a member institution. "The reserve decides whether to pay a settlement," Pat Seaworth noted. He is the Bismarck attorney for the North Dakota University System. He said UND claims total more than all the other 10 state-run campuses combined. Only six or seven claims have been made by state-run universities or colleges since the insurance pool was established in the mid-80's. "With Deitz, it's my understanding there was a payment of $90,000, which as I recall, included $65,000 to Deitz and $25,000 to her attorneys for fees. The rest (about $24,000) was for UND attorney fees," Seaworth said. Gary Thune of Bismarck represented UND in the Deitz case. His firm also had represented UND in an earlier case of reported sexual harassment, in which legal fees claimed by UND totaled nearly $66,000.

UND has not had a full-time lawyer on staff since about 1990. Then-President Tom Clifford reduced a full-time legal counsel to a half-time position, then did away with a UND legal office altogether in favor of contracting for services or using the state attorney general's office.*

The recent claims included $66,000 for legal fees in a sexual harassment suit brought by former UND graduate student Mary Leadbetter against her physiology professor, Richard Rose. A 3-2 vote by the State Supreme Court upheld "sovereign immunity" for UND in the case, and the university was dismissed as a defendant in a $1 million civil suit brought by Leadbetter. She said that Rose sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in New Orleans, where they were at an academic conference in 1989. Leadbetter settled out of court last year. Rose, now at the Chicago Medical School, denied her charges before he resigned as physiology chairman at UND in 1990.**

Other UND legal expenses and losses included $49,000 for settling a wrongful firing complaint by Gail Norman, former box office manager at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. She was fired in July 1989, months after nearly $10,000 was stolen by her assistant manager, Patti Papenfuss, who admitted later to falsifying deposits and receipts at the Fritz. Papenfuss, who received a suspended five-year prison sentence, lives out of state now, and  has been making regular restitution payments of about $200 a month, according to Rick Brown, assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, June 15, 1993

*As of the posting of this report on October 20, 2000, UND hired Julie Evans an University of North Dakota General Counsel, but this individual has never practiced law outside of an academic setting.

** More on this topic will be presented on this site in the future

***Note: UND rung up over $250,000.00 in legal fees and loses in about a 3 year time period (1989-1991).  We have not been able to get more accurate or recent figures because the North Dakota state agency in charge of paying for this type of loss has refused to provide any information on this subject.