(Reuters) – Justices on Massachusetts’ prime court on Wednesday questioned why a Harvard College professor charged with concealing his ties to a Chinese language-run recruitment program was entitled to have the Ivy League college cowl the prices of his prison protection.
Members of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court appeared skeptical of Charles Lieber’s declare that Harvard was required to advance his authorized protection charges, with one justice even calling the professor’s arguments “elitist.”
Lieber, the previous chair of Harvard’s chemistry and chemical biology division, sued the varsity in October 2020 after he was charged in one of many highest-profile instances to emerge from a U.S. Justice Division crackdown on Chinese language affect inside universities.
The case facilities on the Thousand Skills Program, a Chinese language authorities program U.S. authorities say is used to recruit abroad Chinese language residents and overseas researchers to share their information of know-how with China in alternate for perks together with analysis funding.
Prosecutors alleged that in 2018 and 2019, Lieber lied to U.S. authorities about his involvement within the Thousand Skills Plan and affiliation with Wuhan College of Know-how in China.
He has pleaded not responsible to creating false statements and tax-related expenses and is slated to face trial on Dec. 14. Lieber’s being defended in that case by Marc Mukasey of Mukasey Frenchman.
Wednesday’s appeal got here after a lower-court decide declined to challenge a preliminary injunction requiring Harvard to cowl his charges.
David Suny, a lawyer for Lieber at McCormack Suny, argued that underneath an indemnification coverage that utilized to Harvard’s professors, the varsity was required to advance his authorized charges for a prison case arising from his employment.
He referred to as the development of authorized charges a “critical right” lengthy acknowledged by the courts. Whereas Harvard’s coverage contained some exceptions to indemnification, Suny mentioned its phrases have been at finest ambiguous and Harvard was required to cowl his charges.
“If you want to make it completely discretionary, you can,” Suny mentioned. “But Harvard didn’t do that here.”
However Justices David Lowy and Scott Kafker each questioned how the coverage may ever be thought-about ambiguous when it acknowledged that Harvard retained the proper to not advance charges when the varsity decided a professor violated its insurance policies.
“What’s ambiguous there?” Lowy requested.
Joan Lukey, Harvard’s lawyer from Choate, Corridor & Stewart, argued it was allowed to not advance Lieber’s charges as a result of he lied to the varsity about his affiliation with Wuhan College.
His lies to Harvard, she mentioned, “nearly got the university in the same trouble that he was in.”
Suny additionally argued that public coverage strongly favored advancing the charges of individuals like Lieber in positions of public import, including it will assist the professor advance his “right to academic freedom.”
Justice Serge Georges sharply questioned that argument, saying it appeared to counsel solely white collar prison defendants, not blue collar ones, holding vital jobs have been entitled to the advantages of Lieber’s claimed public coverage.
“My take away when I was reading that argument was it sounded really arrogant, really elitist,” he mentioned.
The case is Lieber v. President and Fellows of Harvard School, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, No. SJC-13141.
For Lieber: David Suny of McCormack Suny
For Harvard: Joan Lukey of Choate, Corridor & Stewart
Nate Raymond studies on the federal judiciary and litigation. He could be reached at [email protected]