University of Iowa to pay up to $550 an hour to defend administrators in criminal cases

Charges based on allegations by fired Jordanian professor

Ryan J. Foley
Published: February 4 2013 | 9:25 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:56 am in

The University of Iowa will pay a law firm up to $550 per hour to defend two administrators against criminal charges in Jordan that are based on the allegations of a fired professor.

The university signed a retainer agreement Jan. 3 with Amman, Jordan-based Ali Sharif Zu'bi Advocates and Legal Consultants to represent former medical school dean Paul Rothman and associate dean Lois Geist, according to a copy of the deal released last week in response to an open records request by The Associated Press.

The two administrators face charges in the Amman Criminal Court of Magistrates based on allegations by former radiology professor Malik Juweid, who was fired last year for harassing behavior and has returned to his native Jordan. Juweid claims he received a phone call from Geist last year in which she and Rothman, who has since become dean of Johns Hopkins University medical school in Baltimore, threatened him.

Geist has denied the allegation or ever contacting Juweid since he left the U.S. A university spokesman has called Juweid's allegations baseless and part of a long-running harassment campaign against university officials. The charges were filed in Jordan after an arrest warrant for harassment was issued in Iowa for Juweid for allegedly making a threatening call to Geist in December 2011. Juweid denies making the call.

Juweid was fired in August after sending hundreds of unprofessional and harassing emails to a wide range of colleagues. A faculty panel concluded that he violated policies on harassment, disruptive behavior and ethics. Juweid blames Geist and Rothman for his firing, which he says ruined his career.

The firm will charge $475 to $550 hourly for any partners working on the case and $350 to $475 for associates assisting in the representation, according to the agreement signed by UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard. The firm will also bill the university for "reasonable expenses" such as translation fees and long-distance phone calls. The costs will include Jordan's sales tax of 16 percent.

Before the retainer was reached, the firm had billed the university more than $8,400 for earlier work on the case last fall, according to an invoice released to the AP. The retainer does not set a cap on how much the university will pay. University spokesman Tom Moore has said that the money is coming from the College of Medicine's budget.

Moore said Monday the firm is "highly regarded" and its senior partner is a former Justice minister who is well-versed in international legal matters.

"This expertise demands higher fees," he said.

At a hearing last month, the firm's attorneys succeeded in having the case put on hold until an April 21 hearing. The firm is investigating whether the Jordanian courts have jurisdiction over Geist and Rothman, who have not been served paperwork summoning them to appear for April's hearing, Moore said.

Details of the university's legal costs come as the Iowa Board of Regents is expected to consider Juweid's appeal of his firing at a meeting in West Des Moines on Thursday. The attorney who has defended Juweid in Iowa, Rockne Cole, said Monday that the regents have declined to allow him to make public arguments and instead will meet behind closed doors to consider whether to uphold the firing.

If that happens, Cole said he plans to file a court petition in Des Moines seeking a review of the firing by a judge. He contends that University of Iowa President Sally Mason had a conflict of interest in ordering Juweid's firing while also defending herself in a lawsuit Juweid filed against her and other university officials.

Cole said he welcomed the university's decision to hire a law firm to defend officials against Juweid's charges in Jordan. He has said the university should fight the case in court, rather than the media.

"I encourage people not to prejudge the case either way," he said. "I think they are certainly entitled to a full and fair defense and I encourage them to get the best legal talent out there."

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