Van Heerden, LSU reach settlement

A former LSU coastal researcher and the university reached an out-of-court settlement Monday of the man’s claim that his LSU career was destroyed over his criticisms of federal engineers after New Orleans’ levees failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady signed an order Monday morning that conditionally dismisses the three-year-old litigation involving Ivor van Heerden, the LSU Board of Supervisors and David Constant, former interim dean of LSU’s College of Engineering. Constant informed van Heerden in 2009 that his employment contract would not be renewed.

The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, censured LSU last year over van Heerden’s loss of his contract.

An organization of approximately 50,000 members, the AAUP ruled that van Heerden lost his job for speaking out against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The court case had been scheduled for a jury trial Feb. 19 in Baton Rouge.

No details of the settlement agreement were contained in the court record Monday.

Brady’s order informed both sides in the dispute that they could reopen the case at any point in the next 60 days “to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement.”

“I can confirm that we have reached an agreement with LSU,” Jill Craft, van Heerden’s attorney, said Monday in an interview. Craft added, however, that she “can’t discuss details until the final documents are signed.”

Four attorneys for LSU and Constant did not respond to email requests for comment.

Ernie Ballard, an LSU spokesman, said in an email: “The university doesn’t comment on litigation.” Ballard added that LSU’s attorneys did not want to comment Monday.

After Katrina submerged much of New Orleans in 2005, van Heerden alleged design mistakes by the corps led to levee collapses that claimed hundreds of lives. He expanded on those allegations in a 2006 book, “The Storm.”

Over the past three years, Brady dismissed some of van Heerden’s claims against LSU and Constant. The judge ruled, though, that van Heerden could pursue his allegations that LSU officials initiated a campaign to curb his public statements because they feared the loss of grants and other funding from the corps. Brady also ruled that van Heerden could pursue his claim that LSU officials retaliated against him because of his criticisms of the corps.

And Friday, the judge denied LSU’s request that he exclude emails and other documents favorable to van Heerden from trial evidence.

Among those documents is a Dec. 18, 2009, report by Pratul Ajmera, then chairman of LSU’s Senate Faculty Grievance Committee.

Ajmera’s report concluded that van Heerden should have been granted tenure under LSU’s rules prior to the dispute over New Orleans’ levee designs in Katrina’s wake.

LSU also unsuccessfully argued for exclusion of a Dec. 17, 2009, email to Ajmera from Dan Edelman, a Washington attorney for van Heerden.

In that email, Edelman alleged that LSU rules require a dean to seek a recommendation from departmental faculty before severing ties to a professor, such as van Heerden. Edelman alleged Constant violated those rules by informing van Heerden on April 9, 2009, that his LSU career was at an end. Edelman said the departmental faculty did not vote on the issue until May 4, 2009.