Court reverses verdict on tenure Jury had sided with two professors fired by Hopkins Hospital

November 05, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A state appeals court reversed yesterday an $822,000 judgment awarded by a Baltimore Circuit Court jury to two professors who sued after they were fired by Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1994.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that Drs. Samuel B. Ritter and A. Rebecca Snider were never offered tenure when they were recruited in 1993 and were owed no explanations when they were fired.

Dr. Frank Oski, the hospital's director of pediatrics, clearly was in no position to offer tenure when he recruited Ritter from Cornell and Snider from Duke University, the court ruled.

"We conclude that Dr. Oski had no authority to bind Hopkins to the kind of commitment that the jury apparently found he made," wrote former Special Appeals Court Chief Judge Alan M. Wilner, who has been elevated to the Court of Appeals.

"I find the decision nothing less than incredible, absolutely incredible," said Marvin Ellin, lawyer for the physicians.

He said he will ask the Court of Appeals to review the decision, which he said ignored evidence presented to jurors during a 15-day trial about promises assuring his clients tenure. Ellin said the doctors began looking for work in the same city after they were married in January 1993 and that Hopkins went to great lengths to woo them, including leading them to believe permanent appointments were a mere formality.

Joseph G. Finnerty Jr., Hopkins' lawyer, said the ruling was a victory for higher education.

It reversed an award that was based on Judge Richard T. Rombro's erroneous instructions to jurors saying they could decide on the issue of tenure, he said.

"The judge said the jury could infer tenure from [a recruiter's] arm around the shoulder and a handshake, and the court here is saying that was just wrong. You can't infer tenure from that," Finnerty said.

The American Council on Education and nine colleges, including the University of Maryland, Goucher and Georgetown, filed a joint brief supporting Hopkins' position. They argued that if the verdict were allowed to stand, it would expose their universities to similar suits involving faculty recruiting and tenure.

Hopkins administrators testified during the trial that they had no choice but to dismiss the physicians 10 months after they started work because patients were misdiagnosed and business plummeted.

"The case stands for the idea that decisions about tenure should be made at the academic institutions, and not by juries in courtrooms, which is what had happened here," Finnerty said.

But Ellin said the couple performed extremely well and that their careers were ruined by what happened.

He said they have moved to Monmouth Junction, N.J., where Ritter works as a pediatric cardiologist at Staten Island Hospital. Snider has yet to find a full-time position, he said.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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