U. of North Dakota professor wins libel suit against former student

NORTH DAKOTA — A physics professor at the Universityof North Dakota won a libel lawsuit against a former student onApril 2 when a jury ordered that the defendant pay the professor$3 million.

John Wagner filed the lawsuit earlier this year after one ofhis former students, religious studies major Glenda Miskin, postedan article titled "Kinky, Torrid Romance by Randy PhysicsProfessor" on undnews.com, a Web site she operates.

The article alleged Wagner had made sexual advances towardMiskin and accused the professor of having admitted to her thathe was a pedophile. The professor has denied all allegations,saying that he repeatedly turned down Miskin’s romantic entreatiesbefore filing a complaint with the university about the high volumeof e-mail messages she had sent him, The Chronicle of HigherEducation reported. A university disciplinary committee suspendedMiskin in May 1999 for "e-mail stalking" of the professor.

"The significance in the jury’s verdict does not lie inthe dollar amount since the defendant has no assets," Wagnerwrote via e-mail. "This case has never been about money.However, I am deeply touched and grateful to the jury for returningto me three million dollars worth of integrity that was stolenfrom me during the last three years. No one should be subjectto what I’ve had to endure. If in anyway my case assists in stoppingthis type of abuse of the Internet under the guise of free-speech,that also is of comfort to me."

Miskin, who represented herself in the case, said that sheproved each of the article’s accusations.

Miskin also said that two assistant state’s attorneys, a universityfaculty member and ex-Fargo mayor Jon Lindgren testified in supportof her claims.

"It isn’t me," she said. "I mean, I’m the onlyperson who can stand up. There’s a whole bunch of students atUND helping me and there’s a whole bunch of teachers and professorsand lawyers helping."

Wagner’s attorney, William McKechnie, said he and his clientintend to collect the reward in a variety of ways, including thepursuit of the Internet service providers who allowed Miskin’sarticle to be posted.

In its verdict, the jury recommended that Miskin publish aretraction and apologize to Wagner. The article was still postedon her Web site until the site became inaccessible April 13. McKechniehad said earlier that day that he had contacted the service providerabout taking down the Web page.

The site, its mission described as "bringing out all theoppressive laws and regressive laws in North Dakota," hassince reappeared online and is now hosted by Yahoo. Miskin saidshe plans to post the article again in a section of the Web sitedevoted to evidence from the trial.

Miskin is searching for an attorney to handle her appeal.