Star adviser, NIU settle court case

By Lisa Taylor

Jerry Thompson will retain his job as adviser of The Northern Star and NIU will pay more than 60 percent of his attorney’s fees after nearly a year of legal negotiations came to a close Tuesday.

“It’s too bad that we had to go through a lengthy, expensive process, but sometimes that has to happen in order to protect our rights—which are to cover the news the way the students see it,” Thompson said.

The federal court case arose when Thompson was removed as adviser by former NIU president Clyde Wingfield last spring, a position which Thompson held for nearly 17 years. Wingfield placed him in a public relations position because of claims of “serious problems related to fiscal management and organization of The Northern Star.”

Thompson then filed a $110,000 suit against Wingfield, claiming his removal was a result of unfavorable articles written about the former president. The articles revealed almost $100,000 was spent on renovations of the former president’s house, which was the subject of investigations by the Illinois legislature and the Board of Regents, who later asked for Wingfield’s resignation.

Thompson then was reinstated temporarily by the Regents on June 19, 1986 until a settlement could be reached in or out of court.

Terms of the settlement, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Roszkowski on Tuesday, include retaining Thompson as adviser while the Blue Ribbon Committee continues to make recommendations and study the structure of the Star and requiring the university to pay $15,000 to his attorneys, Gallagher, Fuenty and Klein. The total costs of his attorney’s fees are $23,250.

owever, Thompson will not receive the $110,000 in damages which he filed for originally.

In the event a structure change is made to a not-for-profit corporation, as was recommended by the Blue Ribbon Committee in September 1986, Thompson will have an opportunity to take a position in the corporation on a temporary basis. If he chooses not to remain with the corporation, Thompson could return to NIU without losing civil service benefits or status.

egarding the structure of the Star, Thompson said, “It should be conditioned on two things: that it remain a student newspaper with students in control and that the level of support remains the same. The newspaper shouldn’t have to pay any price for a reorganization precipitated by the Wingfield affair.”

As part of the university’s settlement, a letter containing the audit findings regarding the “fiscal management” problems will be placed in Thompson’s file. However, these problems have been addressed since the Star hired a business manager, said Jordan Gallagher, one of Thompson’s lawyers.

“We’re very pleased that the case is settled and with the settlement itself,” Gallagher said. “Hopefully the university and the Star will not have to worry about anything like this in the future.”

“I don’t think we would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for our attorneys, Sen. Pat Welch and other concerned legislators, loyal Northern Star alums concerned with the continued editorial content of the Star, important media in the state, for example, the (Chicago) Tribune and the Sun-Times and other friends of The Northern Star,” he said. “If we would have lacked any one we might not have prevailed.”

Debra Fleischman, Star editor, joined Thompson as a co-plaintiff in the suit in order to protect the editorial staff from infringment of its First Amendment rights. Fleischman said she believes the paper now can “get on with its job of informing the public without the pressures of a lawsuit hanging over our heads.”

“Now that the case is over, I feel safe about our editorial freedom. The case in itself stands to guard against interference in the future,” she said. “It sends a signal to administrators who might ever try to interfere in the same way.”

NIU Legal Counsel George Shur said, “I’m delighted that the case is over and settled. The Star is a good newspaper and it will continue to remain independent editorially and hopefully fiscally.”