$843,000 and counting.
That's how much the University of Illinois has spent on outside attorneys to defend itself against professor Steven Salaita. But the university said it's a common sense decision to use outside lawyers at a higher cost rather that the ones already on staff. Tim Ditman has more.
To view the bills sent to the UI from the outside attorneys, click here.
Updated 11:21 p.m. Monday, July 6, 2015:
The University of Illinois' cost of defending itself in a pair of lawsuits filed by Steven Salaita: $843,000-plus — and counting.
That's the total two outside firms billed the UI for work through May 2015, according to invoices obtained by WDWS 1400-AM.
Salaita retweeted a link to the WDWS report Monday to his more than 15,000 followers, adding: "University management will spend whatever it takes (of other people's money) to ensure the collapse of democratic governance on campus."
UI spokesman Tom Hardy defended the strategy of employing outside counsel, explaining that the university needs specialized — and often costly — legal help for high-profile cases like the ones involving Salaita.
"We want attorneys who are regularly in the courtroom and familiar with the judges in question," said Campus Legal Counsel Scott Rice.
The UI's in-house legal team has expertise in higher education, he said. Keeping a team of litigators on staff "just in case" would be both inefficient and unwise, Rice said.
"If a big case comes in that's going to demand a lot of time and attention, we're better off letting our inside attorneys continue with the work that they do and supervise outside counsel, who can get that work done. And then it's over with — we don't have to have people on staff, necessarily, with certain kinds of expertise that isn't needed at all times," Hardy said.
The UI used public funds in part to pay its legal bills, though Hardy didn't specify how much.
Salaita, a former Virginia Tech professor, accepted a written job offer from the UI in fall 2013. But UI administrators withdrew the job three weeks before he was to start teaching last August — and before the appointment went to UI trustees — because of Salaita's controversial tweets about Israel. Trustees upheld the decision in September.
Salaita sued the UI in January to get his job back and compensation for lost income and damages to his reputation.
His lawyers also filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the UI after they were denied a request for public documents related to his case.
Both cases are ongoing.
The UI hired the Springfield law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson on Dec. 12 to represent the university in the Freedom of Information Act case. The rate schedule is $300 to $500 an hour for lawyers and $100 an hour for paralegals. To date, the firm has billed the university for $121,854.
Representing the UI in the larger federal employment case is Perkins Coi of Chicago. Lawyers at that firm are earning up to $630 an hour, with paralegals paid up to $220 an hour. In all, Perkins Coi has been paid $721,098.
The total for both firms was $843,762.
Don't blame Salaita for costing the UI a figure nearing $1 million in attorney fees, his own lawyer said.
"Professor Salaita is not forcing the university to spend any money. The university administrators and its board of trustees are forcing the university to spend a lot of money. They're doing that by refusing to correct their mistake," said Anand Swaminathan of Loevy and Loevy in Chicago. "Professor Salaita's constitutional rights were violated, his contractual rights were violated, he suffers every day."
After being unemployed for close to a year, Salaita last week announced he'd found work — as a professor in American Studies at the American University of Beirut, for the 2015-16 academic year.
The job is a temporary, one-year position in the American Studies department, Swaminathan said.
Staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.