TU tar­get of man's bill­board cam­paign

Sus­pen­sion of The­ater Depart­ment em­ployee sparked law­suit

Tulsa World - - Metro & Region - By Sa­man­tha Vi­cent

The hus­band of a man who has had lit­i­ga­tion pend­ing against the Univer­sity of Tulsa for nearly two years says he hopes to spread the word — even us­ing bill­boards — about what he al­leges is un­war­ranted mis­treat­ment and ha­rass­ment against the cou­ple.

Christo­pher Barnett says the le­gal team for the law­suit re­lated to the sus­pen­sion of his hus­band, George “Trey” Barnett III, from TU still hasn't com­pleted de­po­si­tions of key wit­nesses.

How­ever, Christo­pher Barnett told the Tulsa World the law­suit has noth­ing to do with fi­nan­cial gain. In­stead, it is a nec­es­sary fight to pre­vent the univer­sity from tak­ing such ac­tions against Trey Barnett and other stu­dents, he said.

To that end, he said he pur­chased mes­sages on three bill­boards along Tulsa high­ways that sim­ply say: uni­ver­si­ty­of­tul­salaw­suit.com. When en­tered on­line, the web ad­dress con­nects to the Ok­la­homa State Courts Net­work record of the case.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Christo­pher Barnett said he is send­ing 15,000 post­cards weekly with the same web­site ad­dress to res­i­dents near TU's cam­pus. Both, he said, will be in ef­fect for at least the next year.

The bill­boards, he said, cost about $7,500 per month, while the com­bined costs of cre­at­ing and send­ing the post­cards are about 18 cents each.

Christo­pher Barnett said he pur­chased the ad­ver­tis­ing items to show his sup­port for his hus­band, who he says is be­ing wrongly ac­cused by TU of ha­rass­ment and mis­con­duct “even

though he did not do any­thing wrong.”

The univer­sity, through a spokes­woman, de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

TU sus­pended Trey Barnett, who was a part of the The­ater Depart­ment, in late 2014. The sus­pen­sion was is­sued after a stu­dent and two pro­fes­sors lodged com­plaints based on “defam­a­tory, de­mean­ing and bul­ly­ing” Face­book posts writ­ten by Christo­pher Barnett. The posts ap­peared on Trey Barnett's time­line be­cause he was tagged in them.

A de­ci­sion let­ter from TU to Trey Barnett ob­tained by the Tulsa World states that the school be­lieved Barnett bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for the posts, even if he did not write them. Trey Barnett's pe­ti­tion against TU al­leges the school is neg­li­gent, be­cause he was not al­lowed a hear­ing to de­fend him­self; but TU's let­ter in­di­cates a pro­fes­sor had warned Trey Barnett mul­ti­ple times about the be­hav­ior.

“Ob­vi­ously, Trey sue the Univer­sity of Tulsa for money,” Christo­pher Barnett said Fri­day. “I think every­thing that has hap­pened shows we have plenty, and we're not afraid to spend what­ever it takes. We're very for­tu­nate that we have been so blessed, and I think our money is be­ing put to good use.”

Trey Barnett's sus­pen­sion re­sulted in con­dem­na­tion from var­i­ous First Amend­ment rights non­profit groups, which said the school was un­law­fully pu­n­ish­ing some­one for an­other per­son's pro­tected speech.

“I've con­stantly said that if they were of­fended, all they had to do was hit the block but­ton, but they failed to use any com­mon sense,” Christo­pher Barnett said.

“In­stead TU took the ap­proach of cen­sor­ship, be­ing judge, jury and ex­e­cu­tioner and ac­cus­ing Trey of some­thing he did not do.”

Dis­trict Judge Da­man Cantrell, who had been as­signed to the case since Jan­uary 2016, re­cused ef­fec­tive Aug. 28, cit­ing a ju­di­cial canon tied to ques­tions about im­par­tial­ity.

Cantrell is an ad­junct pro­fes­sor for TU's Col­lege of Law, whose web­site de­scribes him as an “ac­tive sup­porter” of the law col­lege ju­di­cial in­tern­ship pro­gram.

The case has been as­signed to Dis­trict Judge Jef­fer­son Sell­ers and is sched­uled for an Oct. 4 sta­tus con­fer­ence.

COURTESY/Christo­pher Barnett

A sign pur­chased by Christo­pher Barnett read­ing “uni­ver­si­ty­of­tul­salaw­suit.com” stands along­side Tulsa high­way.

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