January 24, 2001

C.U. Loses Ruling as Demas Case Proceeds

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Another chapter was written Dec. 12 in the multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by a former Cornell Ph.D. student against her faculty advisor and the University — but the epic battle continues.

Last month when New York State Supreme Court Justice Judith F. O’Shea denied Cornell and Prof. David A. Levitsky, nutritional science, their respective motions to dismiss lawsuits from Antonia Demas Ph.D. ’95, the case that was borne in 1993 was assured life in the 21st century.

Demas originally filed her complaint in March 1999 in Tompkins County Court after failing to resolve within the University her allegation that Levitsky claimed her research as his own, adding to the charge that Cornell erred when it failed to protect her from wrongdoing.

Now, after moving to dismiss the case altogether last July, the University, in separate procedings from Levitsky, has decided to appeal the ruling.

“The University believes there are strong legal arguments to pursue [the case’s] dismissal,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, asserting his position despite the recent ruling.

Counsel for Levitsky has chosen the same course of action, according to Peter N. Littman, Demas’ attorney.

Following the notice of appeals, New York State law allows 60 days for defending attorneys to file records and briefs. This stage of the process should be completed by the middle of March, Littman said.

Then, as the defendants begin to challenge the December rulings, the likelihood of a quick settlement for the lawsuit decreases.

“[the appeals] is a process that could take a very long time, especially in a case such as this which involves so many potential witnesses,” Littman said.

He added that the timeline may range from 12 to 18 months.

“The same issues that were before the trial judge will go before appeals,” Jim Mingle, University counsel, explained.

Cornell retained Thomas D’Antonio as outside counsel for the defense in the Demas case, but D’Antonio, of Rochester, N.Y., could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Demas intend to move forward with discovery demands to uncover any additional evidence and begin depositions in preparation for trial.

Exuding confidence from the case history thus far, Demas’ counselors anticipate no delays.

“All counsel for the plaintiff believe that Professor Levitsky and Cornell realize that they are never going to win this case on the facts,” Littman said.

Littman pointed to three pieces of evidence in particular that he considers a centerpiece to Demas’ case.

First, Littman has a contract between Demas and Levitsky that guaranteed Demas to be credited as the author of the research in question. Also, he holds a letter, signed Sept. 11, 1995, in which the professor named Demas as creator. Finally, Littman offered an e-mail, sent two days after the aforementioned letter, in which Levitsky warns the recipient (the same person to whom the previous letter was sent) of a “strange” letter soon to be received.

Considering the e-mail an attempt to alter the statement in Levitsky’s letter, Littman said, “To me there is nothing in this case that is as dramatic as that document.”

That action, combined with 13 other offenses, make up the case of Demas versus Cornell and Levitsky. In total, Demas has sued the two parties for compensatory and punitive damages of more than $50 million.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch