Judge tosses fraud claim, but ORU lawsuits still alive

Tulsa World/February 20, 2009

A Tulsa County district judge dismissed a former Oral Roberts University accountant's claim of fraud Thursday but kept other elements of the lawsuit alive.

In a former student's lawsuit, which also was heard Thursday, the judge made no ruling and set separate hearings in March to continue arguments.

The case of the former accountant, Trent Huddleston, could be decided March 2, when District Judge Michael Gassett is set to determine whether claims including negligence, wrongful termination and emotional distress will continue.

Huddleston alleges that he was forced to list financial transactions improperly to allow ORU's former president, Richard Roberts, and his wife, Lindsay Roberts, to misspend university money.

The former student, David Brown, claims that he was unable to complete his history degree after ORU fired one of his professors.

The lawsuits were filed in November 2007, along with one by three former professors that was settled last year with undisclosed terms.

Lawyers for Richard and Lindsay Roberts argued that the firing of professor John Swails could not have interfered with Brown's education. Classes that would have allowed Brown to obtain his degree still were offered.

Brown's lawyers said that Roberts, as ORU's president, was responsible for the matter.

Roberts resigned soon after the lawsuits were filed.

Gassett said Thursday that he needed more time to review briefings and recent court decisions that could affect the case.

"I've got more questions than I've got answers," he said.

In the Huddleston case, ORU attorney Jo Anne Deaton said the plaintiff has had plenty of opportunities to convince the judge of the case's merit.

"It just seems at some point there has to be an end," she said. "And I think we're there, Judge."

Gassett said the court is close to resolving the case but that more arguments should be heard.

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