Anne Jordan waited nine years for her lawsuit against the University
of Southern Mississippi to be tried
in state court.
When the jury found in her favor, she thought at last her
ordeal was near at its end. She would receive $300,000 in pay and pension funds
because, the jury found, USM had wrongly
fired her less than one year short of retirement.
Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich signed the final judgment a
day later, Oct. 8, 2004.
71, still hasn’t received a dime.
“When I finally got into the courts, I really expected
to be treated fairly,” said the part-time secretary to a federal judge.
“I think it’s USM’s strategy to just
put it off and put if off and the court is complying with that.
“What is that old saying? ‘Justice delayed is justice
USM’s attorney, Lee Gore,
said the university is not to blame for the delays. USMJordan
filed it in January 1995, partly because the state Circuit Court system for
Forrest and Perry counties faced a backlog of 5,000 to 7,000 cases with only
one judge to handle them.
petitioned to move the lawsuit to federal court after
In federal court, a trial date was set for 1997, but Jordan
fought to have the case returned to Circuit Court, where criminal cases have
priority over civil lawsuits such as hers.
“As far as Anne Jordan’s allegations that the
university set out to delay her case, no,” Gore said. “This case
could have been resolved years ago.”
history at USM dates to 1953, when she
enrolled on a band scholarship. A year later she helped establish the Dixie
Darlings, the dance team that has become a fixture at football halftime shows.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at USM,
and also worked there prior to earning her doctorate in higher education at the
University of Mississippi.
returned to USM in 1992 to manage a federal
grant on drug and alcohol abuse. Two years into the five-year program, she
reported her boss for mismanaging grant funds. Jordan not the boss was fired in
Then-USM President Aubrey
Lucas denied her appeal one year and two months after she filed it, prompting Jordan
to sue. The university contends she failed to exhaust her appeals and
improperly filed the lawsuit, which should be grounds for dismissing the case.
Lucas had offered her another job, but Jordan
turned it down. Instead, she moved to Pensacola
and then New Orleans to work for
other institutions of higher learning.
The years wore on.
Jordan, a divorced mother of two grown sons, has spent much
of her life savings on her lawsuit. Trial dates were set and canceled.
Witnesses for Jordan, who rearranged their schedules and booked motel rooms,
had to cancel plans at the last minute.
“We put our faith in the judicial system,” she
wrote in a summary of her case, “but instead of fairness, we have been
brutalized by this court.”
Gore said a new judge and district attorney have
successfully worked to ease the case backlog. Efforts have failed to convince
the state Legislature another judge is needed in the 12th Circuit Court
Judge Robert Helfrich, who took office in January 2003,
presided over Jordan’s
case and worked with the university to get other cases set for trial.
After the jury found in Jordan’s
favor, USM filed a standard post-trial
motion that asked Helfrich to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial.
Helfrich did not return a telephone message requesting he
explain why post-trial motions, filed in late 2004 in the Jordan
case, still await rulings.
appealed three times to the Mississippi Supreme Court, requesting Helfrich be
ordered to make a decision. Instead, the high court returned two of the
motions, citing technical defects.
After the Sun Herald’s telephone call and Jordan’s
latest motion for relief, Helfrich contacted Jordan’s
attorney, she said. Helfrich wants Jordan and USM
to enter mediation. He will select the mediator from candidates each side
wonders why mediation is necessary.
“USM can save the Mississippi
taxpayers $7,500 (in mediation fees) by simply making an initial proposal to
told her attorney in a recent e-mail. “I also believe it is time for them
to quit wasting the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money.”
wanted her story told because she believes if her case has languished in Mississippi’s
court system, others must be, as well.
“I was at the end of my career,” she said. “I
had my life savings I could use. I just wonder what might happen to other
people in this position.”
Information from: The Sun Herald,
– Associated Press
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