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Al-Arian case moves to Federal court

A federal court Tuesday denied USF’s motion to remand the case against professor Sami Al-Arian to state court.

The ruling, handed down by District Judge Susan Bucklew, said, while maybe not the primary issue in the case, the First Amendment, which falls under federal jurisdiction, is an important aspect that will be addressed. And, had a state court ruled in favor of USF, Al-Arian’s appeal would have been centered on Constitutional law. Therefore, the opinion said, a federal court should hear the case.

“It appears from the complaint that the Court will be unable to resolve the issues in the Plaintiff’s complaint without addressing the Defendant’s potential First Amendment claim, a claim that would unquestionably fall within this Court’s federal question jurisdiction,” the ruling said.

USF Media Relations director Michael Reich said the ruling affects the case very little and that university lawyers will continue their work as before.

“It’s just a step in the legal process, and we’ll proceed with the case in federal court,” Reich said.

USF argued that the case should remain in state court because the university was attempting to determine whether it could legally terminate Al-Arian. But, Al-Arian argued, and the judge agreed, that the case is dripping with Constitutional issues.

Reich said, despite the denial, the university’s case will not be adversely affected by the federal venue.

“We thought the state court had the most appropriate jurisdiction,” Reich said. “But the Federal Court is an appropriate venue.”

Al-Arian said he feels confident that the judge made the right decision.

“I believe the argument that our legal team put together was the right one,” Al-Arian said. “I think it was a clear-cut case.”

The next step in the case involves the legality of the university’s decision to ask the court to rule on Al-Arian. The veteran, tenured professor has long argued that taking the case to court is unnecessary and usurps his grievance rights under the faculty collective bargaining agreement.

“If the university decides to terminate me, there is a process,” Al-Arian said. “I don’t understand the logic at all to start court proceedings.”

USF has said repeatedly that it needs the help of the courts in determining if firing Al-Arian is the proper move. Since Al-Arian is on paid leave, but has not yet been officially terminated, the university says the grievance process as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement cannot begin.

It is this argument of whether the university has a case that will be first before the federal court. Al-Arian has filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Oral arguments were scheduled on the motion for Dec. 6, but a scheduling conflict with the USF attorneys has forced a change. The two sides and the judge are currently deciding a date.