While University of Florida professors contend that a lawsuit about a controversial conflict-of-interest policy is “moot,” UF attorneys this week argued that a federal appeals court should continue to move forward with the case.
The dispute stems from a policy that gave school administrators discretion over allowing faculty members to serve as expert witnesses in litigation. Political science professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald, and Daniel Smith filed the lawsuit after university officials denied their requests to serve as witnesses for groups fighting a 2021 state elections law in court.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in January 2022 issued a preliminary injunction blocking UF from enforcing the policy, saying it violated faculty members’ First Amendment rights.
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The university challenged Walker’s ruling at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Amid the litigation, UF adopted a revised policy that resolved the professors’ concerns, according to court documents. As a result, the professors have sought to dismiss the case as moot.
But in a filing Tuesday, the university argued that the Atlanta-based appeals court should hear arguments in the case because Walker erred in issuing the preliminary injunction.
“Although the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter the preliminary injunction, this (11th Circuit) court has jurisdiction to correct the lower court’s errors,” the filing said. “And the law in this circuit confirms that the proper correction is to vacate the injunction and instruct the district court to dismiss this case for lack of jurisdiction.”
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