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After tense hearing, Liberty University to recover files from ex-comms executive

Liberty University

The main campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg.

Lawyers for Liberty University and its former communications executive, Scott Lamb, will try to work out how to return sensitive school data after two contentious days in federal court.

Lamb first filed suit after he was fired in early October, claiming the school did so in retaliation for objections he’d raised over “corrupt practices,” and Liberty has filed a counterclaim against him demanding $3 million in damages.

The school’s response included a more immediate request for an injunction against Lamb, asking for the return of Liberty’s files and a gag order against Lamb, among other measures. That injunction was the purpose for what was at times intense testimony and debate Thursday and Friday in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg.

Lamb’s position is tied to a few matters related to the school. His lawsuit is based in accusations Liberty violated Title IX, which among other things covers how colleges and universities handle claims of sexual assault.

That’s been a sore spot for Liberty in the past half-year, following a large lawsuit from a dozen women accusing LU of pushing reports of sexual assaults under the rug, along with other court cases and media detailing similar accusations.

Besides that, Lamb has linked his firing to the end of an internal investigation Liberty launched into general misuse of school funds and power, following the resignation of its former president, Jerry Falwell Jr. Lamb has said he spoke to investigators for up to 25 hours of interviews, and his attorney asked questions of witnesses Thursday about such misuse allegations against senior school executives.

Where Liberty has kept its eye financially, though, has been on Lamb’s involvement with its Standing for Freedom Center. Formerly known as the Falkirk Center, the school-owned and operated entity is meant to influence young people toward conservative and Christian thinking largely through social media, with critics considering it conspiracy theory-ridden propaganda.

Liberty’s lawyers have pointed to early budgets for the center, along with a list of other documents about the center that were recovered from Lamb’s work computer after he was fired, as trade secrets Lamb still possessed and could take elsewhere, knowing that it attracted donors for the school.

Figures for the center weren’t disclosed in court, and as one witness pointed out, the center’s budget is rolled into Liberty’s budget and isn’t specified in tax documents — though in 2019, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, the center was in its infancy.

Lamb has said he’s questioned whether the center’s political agenda crossed the line for LU’s status as a tax-exempt institution, though as he said in testimony Friday, his office oversaw the center and he was tasked by Falwell to “grow” it.

In general, this week’s hearing ended up with longer stretches of testimony than expected, during which Lamb and his lawyers extracted some striking claims.

Lamb said from the witness stand Friday he was scripted to lie about Title IX matters as Liberty’s media liaison by the school’s general counsel, David Corry, on at least three occasions, which Lamb said he refused to do.

Lamb has said publicly a speech drafted for current LU President Jerry Prevo to use at convocation Oct. 1 included a promise that Prevo had hired legal counsel to investigate Title IX issues on campus, which Lamb said he wasn’t aware of at the time.

Disputes Lamb had over the school administration’s response to concerns over the Title IX matters — namely, a campaign by current students — culminated in Lamb writing a memo that was discussed exhaustively in court but hasn’t been disclosed. The memo was written on that Friday, Oct. 1, and a meeting that eventually led to Lamb’s firing took place the following Monday, according to evidence in the case.

Reached for comment Friday, Corry deferred to a statement from the school.

“The hearing demonstrated again why Mr. Lamb’s credibility is reasonably questioned. The university’s legal team, for instance, never prepared false statements regarding Title IX for the press to be delivered by any spokesperson,” a statement from the school reads. “We will not take the time to correct Lamb’s myriad misleading statements but as time goes by it will become more apparent that what Lamb has asserted since his termination is false.”

Characterized by Liberty’s lawyer as an enthusiastic talker who’s been “playing a media game,” Lamb slipped other controversial claims about Liberty into his hearing. He suggested both Falwell and Prevo have harbored mistrust for school systems and executives, saying Prevo asked Lamb at one point whether Prevo’s office was bugged, and Lamb’s attorney asked questions about personal use of jets on the school’s dime.

Lamb dodged questions about whether he “wiped” his work computer after being fired, eventually admitting to deleting personal files before handing the device back. Liberty’s attorneys focused on his copying of school documents and recording work conversations, which Lamb contended was essential to his job.

Frequently prodding the hearing on rather than “dancing around this thing,” U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon indicated at the end of Friday’s hearing that Liberty’s injunction should be given. He encouraged attorneys to negotiate how to transfer data from Lamb’s files back to the school efficiently.

Attorneys argued over who should pay for technical assistance doing so, with Liberty’s lawyer stating Falwell has been similarly sorting through personal and LU documents for months in a separate and ongoing lawsuit involving the school.

The core issues in Lamb’s suit and Liberty’s counterclaim are scheduled for a trial next year.

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