Fraternity says illegal tape led to its suspension

By The Daily Iowan

(U-WIRE) IOWA CITY, Iowa – A University of Iowa fraternity filed a lawsuit against university officials Feb. 4, contending that they applied unlawful methods to gain information that was later used to revoke the frat’s recognition.

Fraternity representatives are requesting unspecified damages, claiming the university used an illegally recorded audiotape as evidence against the fraternity.

Phillip Jones, the university’s vice president for Student Services, suspended the fraternity in January 2002 after he met with a former pledge who accused the fraternity of hazing. Omar Vejar, a UI sophomore at the time of the investigation, asserted that Phi Delta Theta members forced him and other pledges to drink large quantities of liquor over a short period of time, among other activities, during the fall 2001 “hell week.”

Vejar provided Jones with a two-hour audiotape he made of the alleged hazing as well as a 12-page report detailing his activities while he was a pledge. Jones, who took the tape to media services and made a copy, said at the time that the events depicted were “over the top.”

Officials named as defendants include Jones, Thomas Baker, the assistant dean of students, Maria Lukas, then an associate UI counsel, and David Bergeon, then a hearing officer.

Fraternity representatives filed a claim with a state panel in July, seeking more than $480,000 in compensation for what they believed was an unlawful sanction – which ended this fall, when Phi Delta Theta regained recognition.

The civil lawsuit, filed in 6th District Court, contends that Jones should have known that his use of the tape violated Iowa Code because the recording was made in secret.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attorney John Maher, who is representing the fraternity, said the audiotape was the “linchpin” of evidence used for the complaint and suspension.

The suit alleges that Baker, Bergeon and Lukas participated in the investigation and “consistently, repeatedly and unlawfully” used the tape against the fraternity.

– Traci Finch

The fraternity does not seek specific liquidated damages, but Iowa Code dictates that for each day Phi Delta Theta was suspended – more than 700 between January 2002 and August 2004 – the fraternity should receive $100, Maher said.

“We really have not sat down and put a calculator to the days,” he said.

UI Senior Associate Counsel Marcus Mills said he had not seen the lawsuit and doubted whether the university had been served with it yet. He added he could not comment until he knew more of the details.

– Traci Finch