Judge denies SFA's motion to dismiss civil lawsuit by former art gallery director

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Even though lawyers for Stephen F. Austin State University argued that there is not enough evidence for a civil lawsuit filed by former employee Christian Cutler to go to trial, earlier this week, a U.S. District Judge disagreed and denied their motions to dismiss the case.

Tim Garrigan's argument for his client, Christian Cutler, is holding up so far. Motions denied in all respects continue to show up on judgments.

"And the judge found that it was a matter or that there's plenty of evidence that it's a matter of free speech," Garrigan said.

In the decision, the judge specifically cites testimony from top SFA officials. The ruling shows there's evidence that they may have "exerted influence" over the president and vice president.

Dean of Fine Arts Dr. Buddy Himes testified he could see where Cutler would feel that he was being railroaded. The judge also notes Himes said, "normally when something like this would take place there would be some sort of investigation, but in this case there wasn't any investigation."

Academic Vice President Dr. Ric Berry's testimony is also noted by the judge. Court documents stated, "Berry told Cutler that the issue was not about Cutler, but about SFA's relationship with Representative Gohmert."

"Those things are really smoking gun evidence that Mr Cutler was exercising his rights to free speech when he was critical of Congressman Gohmert," Garrigan said.

That still remains the argument. Defendants, represented by the state attorney general's office, have indicated the judgment will be appealed. Garrigan and his client will continue their efforts to have the argument placed before a jury panel.

Although East Texas News left messages with SFA officials requesting reaction to this week's ruling, no response was provided.

Cutler and his family have moved to another state where cutler is holding a university position similar to the one he had at SFA.

In 2010, the former SFA gallery director said no to U.S. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Tyler, when asked to judge an art show. Gohmert wanted to bring it to SFA.

Cutler said at the time he didn't want to associate himself with the congressman and referred to the politician as a "fear monger." Cutler apologized to the congressman, but the university was unforgiving. They fired Cutler, but later allowed him to resign.

Cutler claims in the suit his firing is a violation of his rights to free speech.

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