Sued for libel.
At City Council meeting one Monday evening we were presented with a claim against the city for the removal of a car from a no-parking at any time zone near the university campus. It was submitted by a student who had driven one mile from his dorm to his class but on finding no legitimate parking place he parked illegally. And, inevitably, the car was towed.
The claim against the city was one of the most poorly written documents I had seen in a long time wot with misspelled words, lack of appropriate punctuation, failure to capitalize appropriate nouns, gross errors in grammar, etc. My City Council colleagues teased me, asking me if this was an undergraduate or graduate student, whether this was an example of the standard of literacy at Western, etc. The petition was turned down unanimously.
Feeling that I should do something about this incident I corrected the document with a red pen and then sought to find out from the Registrar the address of the student. I was also able to find out that he was registered in a remedial English class so rather than send my irate letter to him directly I sent it to his Teaching Assistant asking that he be given extra help. That was my mistake, letting a third party read the document.
The kid sued me for libel. The attached news article tells the story. [link] I had to hire an attorney since the matter was not covered by the City Council insurance nor by the university. My attorney suggested that I had better pay as odds were that I would be found guilty. So I did.
A week later I received a note from Dr. Hicks, the “old bull” of the English Department, inviting me to join him at his table at lunch the next day. I did so. With him were other senior members of the English Department. “Dr. Drake,” he said, “we professors in the English Department laud your defense of the English language and know that this law-suit has caused you financial harm. Therefore members of the English Department have taken up this collection on your behalf to help pay your costs.” And with that, he passed me a check for over $400, enough to pay my costs. I was delighted.