FAU Wins Lawsuit Against Ex-Professor Who Called Sandy Hook a Hoax
James Tracy’s lawsuit claimed FAU officials violated his First Amendment Rights by firing him for writing a controversial Sandy Hook conspiracy theory blog.
A federal jury has ruled in favor of Florida Atlantic University after a former professor filed a lawsuit claiming he was unlawfully fired for writing a blog that claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
James Tracy was a tenured communications professor at the Boca Raton, Fla., university when he wrote the conspiracy theory blog, reports the Miami Herald. He was fired several years after the blog was created and claims his termination violated his First Amendment rights. Tracy’s lawsuit was seeking reinstatement and back pay.
The university says Tracy lost his position because he repeatedly refused to fill out required paperwork regarding work outside of FAU. All FAU professors are required to reveal their outside work, whether paid or unpaid, to determine if it could affect their university work.
Joseph Curley, one of the private attorneys for the university, says Tracy used his position as an FAU professor for “self-promotion” and to boost his blog’s reputation. FAU officials testified Tracy lied to them about using university resources to write his blog and produce a podcast. He also received money from his blog readers.
“It always seemed like his priority was the blog, and that’s what he was spending his time on,” says Curley.
Tracy’s blog claimed Sandy Hook never happened and the parents of the murdered children were “playing a role”. He also contributed a chapter to a book titled “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It Was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control”.
“We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions,’’ the jury foreman told the Sun Sentinel.
Tracy’s team of attorneys say they plan to appeal the verdict.
FAU Officials Discuss Controversial Blog
Tracy’s blogging regarding Sandy Hook began in late 2012. In January 2013, his blog received national attention when The South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote an article on it.
The university held crisis meetings after receiving complaints about Tracy’s blog from students, staff, alumni and donors, according to testimony from Diane Alperin, who was vice provost at the time.
In those meetings, many reportedly suggested Tracy be fired. One official suggested trying to find “winning metaphors” around the First Amendment to help manage perceptions of the university.
Despite the complaints and concerns, Alperin says school officials never stopped Tracy from writing anything.
“We told him he could continue to say it and to just try to distance himself [from FAU in his writings] to protect the university,” Alperin testified.
During Tracy’s testimony, he acknowledged that university officials did not stop him from teaching or writing what he wanted in the blog.
Professor Feuded with Parents of Sandy Hook Victim
Tracy’s blog gained even more attention when he engaged in a feud with the parents of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old boy who was killed at Sandy Hook, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
The newspaper published a December 2015 letter from the parents saying the pain of losing their son was compounded by Tracy’s claims.
Tracy testified that he wrote an email to the publication in response to the letter.
“The Pozners, alas, are as phony as the drill itself and profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son,” read part of the email.
When Curley asked Tracy during his testimony whether Lenny Pozner was the father of the 6-year-old Noah who died at Sandy Hook, Tracy replied, “Reportedly, yes.”
Tracy became a professor at FAU in 2002 and received his tenure in 2008.