Ward Churchill appeal: If he doesn't win, "tenure means nothing anymore," says lawyer David Lane

Last April, a jury found that controversial CU professor Ward Churchill had been fired from his job in part because of statements he'd made. But jurors like Bethany Newell only awarded Churchill $1 in damages -- and in July, Judge Larry Naves declined to order that Churchill be reinstated.

That's the kind of ruling that begs for an appeal -- and now, one has arrived. Thomas K. Carberry wrote the document, but attorney David Lane, whose other high-profile clients include Balloon Boy dad Richard Heene and wrongfully convicted Timothy Masters, remains Churchill's attorney. And he makes it clear that the case is about far more than Churchill's likening of 9/11 victims to "little Eichmanns."

In his words, "This is a very important appeal. It could have huge repercussions in First Amendment and free speech areas."

What are the grounds of the appeal?

"We won the jury trial, but then the judge tossed it and gave it to CU -- and he gave the university's regents immunity," Lane says. "We're arguing that the judge shouldn't have done that. It's very important that the regents be held accountable when they violated an amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Tenure means nothing anymore if the regents are never going to be held accountable for constitutional violations."

As for those repercussions, Lane believes they're already being felt.

The decision "has already had the effect of causing people to think long and hard before they every open their mouths about any controversial issues," he argues.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a brief in support of Churchill's appeal. But like every court action, this one has to go through a slew of preliminary steps before reaching the consideration stage.

"We filed our brief, and the attorneys for the state are going to file their brief, probably in about a month," Lane notes. "Then we file a reply brief, and on we go."

In other words, the Churchill matter could remain unresolved for quite some time to come, even though the comments that started the pot bubbling in the first place were penned more than eight years ago.