With a jury having found yesterday that Globe University / Minnesota School of Business unjustly fired dean Heidi Weber for blowing the whistle on unethical practices, I’ve been wondering what some of the consequences might be for the school.
Assuming the decision stood on appeal, what effect would it have on any future investigation?
I’m thinking specifically of state Attorney General Lori Swanson, who appears to be asking questions about the schools.
Her office doesn’t generally comment on ongoing investigations, and has not responded to multiple requests for information.
But I spoke today with Prentiss Cox, a University of Minnesota law professor and former manager of the AG’s consumer enforcement division.
He couldn’t comment specifically on the case or any inquiry the attorney general might be making. But judging from his experience working under Swanson, he told me:
“It has absolutely attracted [her] attention. … It’s unlikely to prove anything definitively, but it has to make the attorney general feel more confident [about her own investigation].”
The Weber case itself, he said, would not be critical to any investigation she had, but it would still be useful.
Just how useful would depend on the specific violations and instances mentioned in the Globe case — and what Swanson would be trying to prove:
“It’s not likely that they’re exactly parallel. … It’s sort of an apples-to-pears comparison.”
Although the attorney general could mention Weber’s case in a lawsuit, Cox said, chances are she wouldn’t be able to mention it in front of a jury. Such cases are usually tried on their own merits.
(As Twin Cities trial lawyer Jeffrey Montpetit told me, “You can’t just go around with one verdict and say, ‘This means we win.'”)
And it’s unlikely that Swanson could simply rely on the Weber verdict as proof that the Globe violated the law. In Weber’s whistleblower case, jurors found that Weber had reported real or perceived violations. Swanson, in contrast, would have to prove that Globe had actually violated the law, Cox said.
But she could use physical evidence and testimony from that case in her own investigation.
The Weber case might have also brought up evidence about violations that the attorney general didn’t know about, Cox said. And Swanson might work with Weber’s attorney as she built her case.