Trial of SLU v. Avis Meyer Begins
Kavita Kumar – St. Louis Post-Dispatch
I checked in this morning on the first day of the trial of SLU vs. Avis Meyer. As you may remember, SLU filed a federal lawsuit against Meyer, a tenured professor, in October 2007 for copyright infringement. (Click here for some background on the case.)
Judge Carol Jackson threw out most of SLU’s case in December. But one of the seven counts still remains unresolved. The remaining issue is over the fact that Meyer used SLU letterhead and a SLU fax number to send a letter to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office to dissolve a non-profit corporation he had created with SLU’s name in it. Frank Janoski, a lawyer representing SLU, argued today that SLU had not authorized Meyer to use its address and letterhead for this purpose. (The main issue in the case had been that Meyer filed papers to create a non-profit with the same name of the SLU student newspaper. He later dissolved the corporation. SLU decided to sue later, but the court ruled in favor of Meyer because SLU did not show how Meyer had used SLU’s name “in commerce.”)
Judge Jackson seemed quite miffed that both parties were still fighting this last point. After both sides presented their opening statements, she said that she doesn’t understand why there was still a problem. She said she understood both sides distrust one another.
“But there’s really not a whole lot here,” she said. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know why we’re here.”
Janoski told the court that SLU wants Meyer to correct the record with the secretary of state’s office, wants assurances that Meyer will not use SLU’s name in the future, and wants compensation for attorney’s fees.
Meyer’s attorney, Brian Gill, said that Meyer is prepared to file the requested paperwork with the secretary of state’s office and that he does not plan to use SLU’s name to produce a newspaper in the future.
Janoski said SLU wouldn’t be in court if it had received assurances from Meyer upfront that he wouldn’t again try to use SLU’s name. He added that SLU must protect its name and is not treating Meyer differently than it would any other person or entity.
But Gill suggested otherwise in his opening statement when he said that the way that SLU has pursued this case “would impress even one of Victor Hugo’s inspectors.”
At the judge’s prodding, both sides decided to try to find a compromise. The proceeding was recessed this morning and both sides still appear to be hashing out some sort of settlement. So stay tuned to see what happens. If they can’t reach a compromise, then the trial will resume on the final count. Janoski told the court that testimony from his witnesses would likely take 4 to 5 hours.
Before the opening statements, Jackson also gave Meyer a strong rebuke for destroying some emails. She said she didn’t believe Meyer was trying to thwart SLU’s case, but she said that it was nonetheless “thoughtless and reckless.”
“I’m very troubled by the manner in which the emails were handled by Dr. Meyer,” she said. “This is the kind of behavior that should have never occurred.”
As punishment, she said she would charge Meyer for SLU’s attorney’s fees tied to the related motion.
A handful of SLU professors as well as Meyer’s family was in attendance to show support for him.