TU target of man's billboard campaign
Suspension of Theater Department employee sparked lawsuit
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.
A sign purchased by Christopher Barnett reading “universityoftulsalawsuit.com” stands alongside Tulsa highway.