After months of legal filings and court proceedings, the Morrie Craig case is going back to Oregon State University.
Benton County Circuit Judge Matthew Donohue dismissed Craig's writ of review petition on Tuesday morning, ruling the court did not have jurisdiction because Craig had not exhausted all other avenues to appeal his termination.
Craig, a tenured professor who has taught in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine for 40 years, was given the sack in October by President Ed Ray after a faculty committee found he had bullied two students, sexually harassed one of them and sexually harassed a faculty member.
The university has never made public the details of the allegations, saying they involve “protected information” about faculty and students.
Craig, who says he’s done nothing wrong, went to court to appeal the decision, and in December Donohue ordered OSU to halt termination proceedings against Craig and produce the case record for his review.
The case was unusual, in part because it may be the first courtroom appeal of a tenured professor’s firing since Oregon's public universities were granted independent status by the Legislature in 2013.
In court on Tuesday, Donohue told attorneys for both parties that the statutes that made OSU an autonomous entity did indeed allow for a Circuit Court appeal of a professor's firing — but only after that decision had been appealed to the OSU Board of Trustees. Craig had requested such an appeal in November, but that process was frozen by the judge's order.
"It appears to me the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to decide this case in a writ of review proceeding," Donohue said.
Cody Elliott, representing OSU, argued that Donohue's courtroom was the proper venue for an appeal under state law.
Dan Armstrong, Craig's attorney, agreed, saying that appealing to the Board of Trustees was pointless because "it will just rubber-stamp Ed Ray's position."
But the judge was adamant, saying that that the proceeding was premature until an appeal had been decided by the board.
"OSU hasn't made a (final) decision on this yet because under their own policy there still has to be a decision made by the board," Donohue said.
"We're in an intermediate phase where OSU sets itself up for two writs of review."
Elliott made one last attempt to keep the proceeding on track.
"There's no cases that cover this," he noted. "We're in uncharted territory. But I don't think there's anything in the statute that would preclude the court from reviewing the decision."
Donohue wasn’t buying that logic.
“Your argument would basically allow the court to interject itself into OSU’s process anytime it make a decision somebody doesn’t agree with,” the judge said. “I don’t think you want the court to have a license to freely roam around in any decision OSU makes.”
Outside the courthouse, Armstrong said the decision leaves open the possibility of a future Circuit Court appeal if the OSU Board of Trustees upholds Craig’s termination.
“It’s being dismissed without prejudice, so it can be filed again,” he said.
“What’s good about this decision for us is that, at some point, OSU will have had a bellyful of this and they’re going to get real and give us an offer we can live with.”
Elliott did not return voicemail and email messages requesting comment on Tuesday.
Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.