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Fired Florida professor who called Sandy Hook massacre a hoax fails to win his job back

A memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre stands outside a home on Dec. 14, 2013, the first anniversary of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
(Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

A former Florida Atlantic University professor who claimed he was fired in retaliation for blogging that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax lost his bid to get his job back.

Jurors in the federal free speech lawsuit filed by James Tracy took just three hours to reject his claim that the university terminated him for his conspiracy theory blog.

The university said he lost his tenured position because he repeatedly refused to obey reasonable requests from his bosses.

Tracy, who also harassed the parents of a 6-year-old who was killed in the Sandy Hook shootings, alleged the university was illegally punishing him for his free speech. Thursday is the fifth anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

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The only question the jury had to answer: Was Tracy’s blogging a “motivating factor” in the university’s decision to fire him? To win, Tracy would have had to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence — meaning it was more likely true than not true.

The eight jurors responded Monday with a unanimous “no.”

“We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case, and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions,” the jury foreman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The trial, in federal court in West Palm Beach, began Nov. 29 and featured testimony from Tracy and several university officials.

Tracy, 52, a father of four from Boca Raton, Fla., was a communications professor for Florida Atlantic University from 2002 until January 2016. He received tenure in 2008.

The controversy began in late 2012 after Tracy posted conspiracy theories on his Memory Hole blog about whether the Sandy Hook mass shooting — which killed 20 children and six teachers — had really happened. Tracy hinted at a government conspiracy and later contributed a chapter and timeline to the book “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It Was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control.”

The Sun Sentinel reported on Tracy’s blogging in January 2013, and the story was picked up by national and international media.

The publicity led to widespread criticism and distaste regarding Tracy’s methods and words, which included writing that the families of the victims — the parents of murdered elementary schoolchildren — were “playing a role.”

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In the following years, Tracy also engaged in a feud with the parents of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was killed in the Sandy Hook attack.

University officials say they never censored Tracy or prevented him from expressing his conspiracy theorist opinions. They say he was fired after repeatedly and intentionally refusing to file mandatory disclosure forms that require all professors to reveal outside work and activities that could affect their work or the university.

Tracy said he had no comment after the verdict, but one of his attorneys called reporters “presstitutes” and yelled “fake news” at them as he left the courthouse.

Tracy’s team of attorneys said they plan to appeal U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg’s pre-trial rulings. Tracy’s lawsuit sought his reinstatement as a tenured professor and unspecified damages.

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G. Joseph Curley, one of the private attorneys who represented the university, said university officials were glad they got to “set the record straight” after years of controversy.

“It always seemed like his priority was the blog … and that’s what he was spending his time on,” Curley said.

McMahon writes for the Sun-Sentinel.

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