June 26, 2008

Alumnus Appeals Judge's Decision in Lawsuit Against Cornell

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Published June 30

Kevin Vanginderen ’83, the Cornell alumnus whose $1 million lawsuit against the University for libel was dismissed earlier this month, is seeking to appeal that decision, according to court documents.

Vanginderen, a practicing California lawyer who is representing himself in court, filed a notice of appeal of Southern California District Court Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz’s June 3 ruling in favor of the University.

In an e-mail, Vanginderen stated that “the judge’s ruling ignored some obvious facts and was delivered as if he was still a federal prosecutor more interested in prosecuting me for 25 year old incidents rather than truly discerning the truth of the underlying libel.”

He is appealing to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“The University continues to believe that Mr. Vanginderen’s claim is baseless and ill-advised and will continue to defend against the claim vigorously,” Deputy University Counsel Nelson Roth said of the appeal.

“Given the fact that Judge Moskowtiz relied upon irrefutable documentary evidence in deciding that the story in the Chronicle was essentially true,” Roth continued, “We had hoped Mr. Vanginderen would have let the matter drop.”

The Chronicle article “is obviously more false than true,” Vanginderen said. “It is the product of shoddy police work and poor Cornell Chronicle reporting.”

In addition to dismissing Vanginderen’s libel case, Moskowitz had also ruled that Cornell could recover legal expenses from Vanginderen under California’s “anti-SLAPP” legislation.

The University has filed a “bill of costs” in court indicating that it is seeking to recover $1,049 in attorney’s fees from Vanginderen.

An appeal would prolong a legal battle between Vanginderen and the University that stems from a March 17, 1983 Cornell Chronicle crime blotter article describing Vanginderen’s involvement in several burglaries on campus. In the $1-million lawsuit that was recently dismissed, Vanginderen alleged that the story was inaccurate, causing him “loss of reputation” and “mental anguish” when Cornell placed it online last year as part of a digital archive.

In another, similar lawsuit against the University that is still pending, Vanginderen alleges that Cornell published libelous information, placed him in a false light, publicly disclosed private facts about him and intruded into his private affairs. The claims in this second lawsuit, totaling $10 million, center around the same 1983 Chronicle article and also accuse one of Cornell’s attorneys of publishing libelous information in the court documents that he produced in response to Vanginderen’s original lawsuit.

“[Cornell] may obtain some conservative court rulings in their favor with their unlimited legal budget but they cannot claim a moral high ground for their behavior,” Vanginderen said. “The University and the president should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done to me, no matter what legal outcomes results.”

Filing a notice of appeal in court is required to preserve the right to appeal a decision, but it is not an indication that a party will, indeed, pursue an appeal. Vanginderen declined to specifically discuss his appeal or the grounds for an appeal of the case.