Lawyer says expelled columnist has settled lawsuit against Texas university

TEXAS — A lawsuit brought against Texas TechUniversity by a medical student who was expelled for writing a firsthand accountof an autopsy in the student newspaper has been settled, the student’slawyer said last week.Lawyers for Texas Tech would not comment on thecase but an administrative assistant said the case was still pending in court.She would not say whether a settlement had been reached.Sandeep Rao, astudent at Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock, was expelledfrom the university in April 2002 for allegedly violating a confidentialityagreement he signed before witnessing an autopsy as part of a class assignment.The agreement with the Health Science Center prohibited Rao from releasingidentifying information or facts about the deceased.Under Texas Law,however, records of autopsies performed by medical examiners are open to thepublic.Rao, a former columnist for the University Daily,wrote about the autopsy experience in the Jan. 24, 2002, edition of thestudent newspaper. According to the lawsuit, the purpose of the article was to”debunk the mystery assigned to forensic pathology by the popular media,and to describe the physician-patient relationship of forensic pathology incomparison to other fields of medicine.”An excerpt from his columndescribed the autopsy: ”In a manner not unlike that seen on infomercialsadvertising steak knifes, [Lubbock County medical examiner Dr. Jerry] Spencerproceeded to mince the black coronary arteries along their length, attempting tofind occlusions.”The university expelled Rao for writing about theautopsy, a violation of the confidentiality agreement, officialssaid.Rao sued the university in May 2002, claiming it violated his FirstAmendment rights. Both the district and appeals courts ruled in Rao’s favor,ordering the school to reinstate him.In August, the university filed apetition for review of the case in the Texas Supreme Court. A deputy clerk atthe Supreme Court said a motion to dismiss the case was filed by Texas Tech onJan. 28, suggesting that the two parties have reached a settlement. The courthad not yet taken up the university’s appeal.Andrew Golub, Rao’sattorney, said, ”Although Texas Tech disagreed with the merits of Mr.Rao’s case, it acknowledges that both the trial and appellate courts ruledagainst it, and authorized a temporary injunction in Mr. Rao’sfavor.” Golub said he could not comment any further on thesettlement agreement or the case, but did say that Texas Tech and Rao”worked together to resolve their differences, thereby enabling Mr. Rao tocontinue his medical education uninterrupted and unimpeded.”TheStudent Press Law Center filed an open-records request with Texas TechUniversity for documents related to the settlement. Results of the request arepending.Members of the University Daily staff did not respond torequests for comment.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center v. Rao, 2003 WL 21058116 (Tex.App.-Amarillo).

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