Judge tosses out part of suit against Pat Robertson

Wednesday, February 18, 1998


NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A federal judge Tuesday threw out part of a lawsuit accusing Pat Robertson of defaming two former Regent University professors in a letter.

U.S. district court Judge Raymond A. Jackson agreed with Robertson’s attorneys that the letter did not amount to “fighting words” that tend to breach the peace and are actionable under state law.

The letter, which criticized a group of law professors, did not mention the plaintiffs by name and they apparently learned about it secondhand, Jackson wrote.

But Jackson said it was too early to decide a second issue in the case: whether the letter, as defense attorneys contend, is constitutionally protected as free speech because it is opinion. Evidence must be presented, he said.

No trial date for the lawsuit has been set.

The letter was written in 1994 after nine professors complained to the American Bar Association when Robertson forced the law school’s dean to resign. At the time, the law school was seeking ABA accreditation.

In the letter, Robertson, Regent’s founder and chancellor, accused the professors of trying to cripple or shut down the law school. The letter compared the professors to suicide cult leader Jim Jones and called them “not capable teachers of law” and “inept as lawyers.”

Professors Robert Bern and Jeffrey Tuomala sued, each seeking $10 million.

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