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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Trial in the wrongful termination lawsuit of fired Brigham Young professor Richard Thwaits has opened with his attorney saying his client was forced out by ambitious colleagues and the university contending Thwaits engaged in misconduct and broke the law.
Thwaits had been chairman of the university's animal science department, director of its veterinary technician program and a tenured professor.
He was placed on paid administrative leave by the university during an internal investigation into alleged misconduct and was fired in 2002.
His lawsuit, claiming wrongful termination and breach of contract, seeks damages attorneys said could amount to as much as $1 million.
Evan Schmutz, Thwaits's attorney, said in opening arguments Tuesday that the firing was the result of a witch hunt by "two overly ambitious individuals."
Schmutz said that when Kent Crookston took over as dean of the College of Biology and Agriculture, he had a vision that included neither the animal science department nor its vet tech program.
Schmutz said several complaints against Thwaits were made to Crookston by a graduate student who had received poor evaluations from Thwaits and other students, and eventually Thwaits was terminated.
BYU attorney Rob Clark said accusations against Thwaits began with a "friendly wrestle" with a female student in a hot tub during a department trip, putting a water balloon down another female student's pants and one-on-one counseling sessions with coeds.
Clark said Thwaits' actions became progressively more serious despite a warning letter.
BYU learned Thwaits had dispensed animal science medication to a visiting faculty member in the guise of prescribing it for the instructor's pet and had twice given a student the controlled substance.
He said that Thwaits was investigated by Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing for practicing medicine without a license, and in 2001 Thwaits pleaded no contest to the third-degree felony.
Thwaits' counsel earlier unsuccessfully sought to prevent the jury from being told about the no-contest plea.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)