A Philadelphia-based attorney is embroiled in a legal battle with Temple, accusing the university of influencing its lawyer to represent a student who bit the ear off another student during a confrontation in a dormitory.
On May 1, 2003, a fight broke out between two students, Thomas Sheehan and Daniel Baez, in Temple Towers. During the fight, Baez bit off a portion of Sheehan’s ear.
After the event, Temple Housing held a disciplinary hearing, finding Baez responsible, resulting in suspension from campus for one semester and a year of probation.
The attorney for Sheehan, Peter J. McNamara, accuses the university of influencing their lawyer, Joe Tucker, to represent Baez after the judge dismissed the lawsuit against Temple. McNamara claims Tucker took the case for $1.
Earlier this year, Sheehan took the case to the Philadelphia Court System. Sheehan filed two lawsuits, one against Baez, and one against Temple University.
During the three-day trial, the court, on Feb. 23, issued default judgment against Baez for failing to attend the first two days of trial.
On the third day of trial, the judge dismissed the lawsuit against Temple, finding the claims of negligence insufficient to go to the jury.
After the court dismissed the university from the case, Sheehan and McNamara awaited the assessment of damages against Baez. During a recess, attorneys Tucker and McNamara gathered in the judge’s chambers.
Tucker, Temple’s former lawyer, informed the parties he would be representing Baez throughout the remainder of the case for $1.
McNamara claims Temple requested Tucker to represent Baez after the judge dismissed their case.
According to McNamara, during the meeting in the judge’s chambers, Tucker said Temple asked him to represent Baez because they did not want a “million-dollar judgment” in favor of one student against another.
“It’s a disgrace that Temple allowed their attorney to represent the student who was found responsible,” McNamara said. “It’s an insult to Tom Sheehan.”
The University denies McNamara’s claims. Associate of University Council, Valerie Harrison, said Temple had nothing to do with allowing their lawyer to represent Baez’s case.
“We did not pay for it,” Harrison said. “We were out of the case. Our case was over.”
McNamara said he feels it was a conflict of interest for Temple to allow Tucker to represent Baez, being that he was originally set to testify for the university. University Council had no influence over Tucker’s decision to represent Baez, according to Harrison.
“We didn’t see it as a conflict of interest, so we did not object,” Harrison said. “We couldn’t make Tucker represent Baez. We couldn’t make Baez take his representation.”
The judge considered and dismissed the conflict of interest, Harrison said.
“All of the arguments McNamara made the judge considered to be without merit,” she said.
McNamara said he does not believe Temple did not have anything to do with Tucker representing Baez.
“That’s so ridiculous to believe that Tucker would do that [choose to represent Baez on his own]. Why would someone represent someone who caused their client to get sued?” McNamara said.
“I think that Temple put him in a bad situation by asking him to do it. He’s stuck. He’s going to have to do what his client wants him to do.”
McNamara claims by allowing Tucker to represent Baez they were attacking the victim.
“I was the victim,” Sheehan said. “They were treating the guy who was guilty as the victim. They spit in my face after they’ve done nothing to comfort me after getting my ear bitten off. Temple kicked me while I was down.”
Although he may have been the victim, Sheehan did in fact file a lawsuit against the university.
“We were in an adversary position with Sheehan. He sued the university. I think McNamara forgets that,” Harrison said. “Temple had a responsibility to defend itself, which it did successfully.”
Harrison said McNamara is just mad that Baez got representation.
“He had his day in court. He presented his case and he lost,” Harrison said. “At the end of the day, the judge said Temple was not responsible and that it was appropriate for Baez to use the same law firm as Temple.”
McNamara posed concern of Temple favoring minority students.
“They’re bending over backwards for minorities. If my client has a problem with diversity, he wouldn’t have picked Temple,” McNamara said.
According to Harrison, McNamara approached her in court and accused her of helping Baez because he is a minority.
“I think he was suggesting I would only help a student who was a minority,” Harrison said.
“The suggestion that the university made any decisions based on the race of the students involved is offensive and untrue.”
After Tucker decided to represent Baez, McNamara and Sheehan withdrew their punitive damages claim against Baez. The court awarded Sheehan $250,000 on behalf of Baez.
“They were trying to lessen the amount of money Baez had to pay. The question was, ‘what should be compensated?'” McNamara said.
“Mr. Tucker was going to put Baez on the stand, and since Mr. Sheehan was so distraught about seeing Temple’s lawyer now representing Baez, a tactical decision was made to withdraw the punitive damages claim so Mr. Baez couldn’t get up on the stand and cry poor,” McNamara said.
Sheehan said he has been trying to forget about the whole thing.
“It was inappropriate, unprofessional and straight up wrong,” he said. “They took my ear; they took my pride; they took my dignity.”
Although the trial is over, McNamara and Sheehan plan on filing an appeal.
“The university regrets that any of its students have a dispute that escalates to this point,” Harrison said.
“It’s always unfortunate when the dispute ends up in litigation.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at email@example.com.