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Appeals court weighing lawsuit filed by ex-IPFW chancellor

October 15, 2015

An attorney for the former top administrator of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne pressed arguments that a businessman defamed him in a letter shortly before he was forced to retire.

A three-judge state appeals court panel heard arguments Wednesday about the lawsuit filed by former IPFW chancellor Michael Wartell against businessman Larry Lee for writing to then-Purdue President France Cordova, asserting that Wartell's "word (does) not always serve as his bond" and that he had a "lack of integrity."

Officials of Purdue, which oversees the 13,000-student Fort Wayne campus, forced Wartell to retire at age 65 in 2012 under a little-used retirement age policy for high-level administrators.

The appeals court is considering whether to uphold an Allen County judge's ruling that the statements in Lee's letter were not defamatory, The Journal Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1hGuR12 ).

Judge Paul Mathias asked whether the last few lines of the letter made Lee's intention clear, indicating that Lee and other businessmen seeking Wartell's replacement were "out for blood."

Lee's attorney Linda Polley characterized the letter as a polite way of expressing criticism.

"He never called (Wartell) a liar," she said.

The judges didn't say when they would rule on Wartell's appeal.

Wartell led the Fort Wayne campus for 18 years, and Purdue's Board of Trustees turned down a resolution from the IPFW Senate asking that he be allowed to stay on until the school's 50th anniversary in 2014.

Purdue paid Wartell $52,000 to settle his federal age discrimination lawsuit against the university.

Purdue spent more than $200,000 defending itself in Wartell's lawsuit and trying to keep secret a report generated during its investigation. That report concluded that school officials bungled then handling of Wartell's departure, causing it to become an "ugly situation."

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