The University of Iowa has hired a lawyer to fight criminal charges against two top administrators filed in Jordan, where a troubled former professor is seeking revenge against officials he blames for his firing.
The university's former medical school dean, Paul Rothman, and associate dean Lois Geist have been charged with making a death threat to Malik Juweid, who was fired in August and has returned to his native country of Jordan. A university spokesman called the charges — which are based solely on Juweid's statement to a prosecutor— baseless and part of a long-running harassment campaign by Juweid.
Geist and Rothman, now dean of the prestigious medical school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, face a Sunday hearing in Amman that they plan to skip while the university-retained attorney challenges the case.
"What the university is trying to figure out at this point, is how is it possible that two American citizens who have never been to Jordan, can be subject to jurisdiction in the Jordanian criminal courts," university spokesman Tom Moore said. "The university has retained legal counsel to try and get answers and if needed will provide a defense to both Dr. Rothman and Dr. Geist."
The headache is the latest for the university after years of problems with Juweid, who was fired after sending repeated unprofessional and harassing emails to colleagues. Juweid was banned from campus and placed on administrative leave in January 2011. A faculty panel concluded that he violated policies on harassment, disruptive behavior and ethics, among others.
During the disciplinary proceedings, Juweid filed a civil lawsuit in Iowa accusing university officials, including Geist and Rothman, of discrimination and retaliation. His conduct was criticized by the judge, who barred him from contacting defendants and noted his "sometimes emotional outbursts, his history of emotional challenges, and his occasional rude emails to defense counsel and parties."
The accusations that prompted the charges overseas sound far-fetched. Juweid claims that Geist called him in April on his cellphone and warned him not to return to the U.S. to pursue his lawsuit. The charges say Geist told Juweid that she and Rothman could have him killed — "even if that required getting the Mafia involved," Moore said.
Juweid says a prosecutor filed the charges based on his statement under oath. Geist denies making the call and has not initiated contact with Juweid since he left the U.S. in June 2011, Moore said.
Juweid's accusation turns the tables on a pending criminal harassment charge that he faces in Iowa for an alleged threatening phone call he made to Geist. Juweid denies making that call and claims it was filed to defeat his lawsuit, which he has since dropped. Moore said the call was recorded.
Geist was summoned to appear in Amman after an unusual process: The criminal citation went to the Jordanian embassy in Washington and then to Seattle-based Process Forwarding International, a contractor that serves international court documents.
One of its employees dropped off Geist's summons Oct. 29 with a secretary at a medical school office. The company also tried but failed to serve Rothman, who didn't return an email seeking comment. Moore said the summons was for a November hearing, which was delayed, and delivered without involvement of U.S. authorities.
Juweid said he will push for the case to proceed without the defendants, and he acknowledges holding a personal grudge against them. He said he hopes to convict them in absentia and then use the conviction to make it hard for them to travel overseas.
With no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Jordan, Geist and Rothman couldn't be arrested if convicted. But in that scenario, Juweid said he would notify Interpol and push for their arrest should they enter a country that has an extradition treaty with Jordan. He said that could be a problem for Rothman because Johns Hopkins has an affiliate hospital in the United Arab Emirates.
In an email, Juweid blamed the two for his firing, which he says destroyed his career, ruined him financially and forced him and his family to leave the U.S.
"Asking me why bother having Rothman and Geist prosecuted is like asking the American people why not just forget about September 11 and not prosecute Al-Qaeda terrorists!" he wrote. "I will not rest until I receive justice."
Aref Al-khattar, a retired Jordanian law enforcement officer who is a criminology professor at California University of Pennsylvania, said the Jordanian criminal justice system was similar to the U.S., in which cases are filed based on prosecutors' discretion. He said he had confidence the courts would eventually dismiss the charges if they are baseless.
"This will not be a strong case unless the allegations are supported by witnesses or other materials," he wrote in an email.
Rockne Cole, an Iowa City lawyer who represented Juweid in the civil case, noted that university lawyers had "no compunction whatsoever" about requiring Juweid to return to the U.S. to testify in his civil case. He suggested they present their defense in Amman.
"It's time for them to stop playing their case out in the media," he said, "and make the arguments to the Jordanian criminal court."