Lashing out at his former bosses and a federal judge, former Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy is back in court, again claiming he was wrongfully fired for publicly and repeatedly proclaiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
In his ongoing quest to get his job back, Tracy insists a federal jury got it wrong in December when it decided the university fired him for insubordination, rather than for his conspiracy theories about the 2012 Connecticut school shooting that left 26 children and teachers dead.
“FAU fired Tracy in retaliation for controversial posts he made on his personal blog regarding the legitimacy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre,” attorney Richard Ovelmen wrote in a 63-page appeal filed last week with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal.
The university’s claims that it fired Tracy because he failed to report his work on his controversial blog, Memory Hole, are nothing more than a ruse, Ovelmen told the Atlanta-based appeals court.
As proof, Ovelmen points out that at least 20 other FAU professors regularly post their views on social media. None has been required to report their activity to school officials, much less been disciplined, he wrote.
FAU administrators targeted Tracy after news of his blog ignited a firestorm of protest with scores of letters and phone calls streaming into the Boca Raton-based school, demanding his ouster.
University administrators and others might not like his views that the school shooting and other tragedies, such as the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings, were staged by the government to promote gun control. But Tracy has a constitutional right to express them, Ovelmen said.
Quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, he wrote: “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the ‘thought we hate.’”
During the roughly two-weeklong trial, FAU officials emphasized that they didn’t immediately fire Tracy from his tenured position when word about his blog surfaced in 2012. It wasn’t until January 2016, after he repeatedly refused to fill out a mandatory form disclosing his outside activity, that he was terminated from his 11-year job as a communications professor.
However, Ovelmen said the timing of Tracy’s termination was suspicious. It came weeks after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in December 2015 published a letter from Leonard and Veronique Pozner, whose 6-year-old son was among those killed at the Newtown, Connecticut, school.
“FAU has a civic responsibility to ensure that it does not contribute to the ongoing persecution of the countless Americans who’ve lost their loved ones to high-profile acts of violence,” the couple wrote, inflaming others who believed Tracy should be fired.
School officials insisted the timing was coincidental. In addition to not reporting his work on his blog, Tracy used university equipment for his podcast, Real Politik, they said.
Ovelmen countered that the school’s explanations are belied by emails written by Tracy’s supervisor, Dean Heather Coltman. When a faculty member wrote a missive to a newspaper, calling Tracy’s behavior “despicable,” Coltman described the letter-writer as her “hero.” In contrast, after Tracy was fired, she called him “a nut job.”
Ovelmen said the jury’s verdict was tainted because U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg refused to let jurors hear about a 2015 faculty meeting when professors voiced concern about the policy that requires them to alert administrators about outside activity. Like Tracy, professors were confused about what outside work they had to report, he said.
Ovelmen, who works for the powerful Carlton Fields law firm, is handling the appeals for Tracy’s trial attorneys, young lawyers who banded together to form the Florida Civil Rights Coalition.
FAU attorneys will have ample opportunity to refute Ovelmen’s claims. Ovelmen is asking the appeals court to rule in Tracy’s favor and order the school to reinstate him or to send the lawsuit back to Rosenberg for a new trial.