Wednesday, August 31, 2011

UPDATED: Federal suit: Male student claims Sewanee: The University of the South rushed to judgment on rape charges against him; shocker--Brett Sokolow testifies for HIM

An unnamed male ex-student of  Sewanee: The University of the South, is suing the Episcopal-affiliated university in southeastern Tennessee for breach of contract and negligence because, he asserts, the university harmed his reputation and career prospects by violating its own rules in response to a sexual assault allegation against him in the fall 2008 semester.  The suit alleges a classic rush to judgment by the school against the male student that sounds typical of many others that we've chronicled on this site. If the evidence supports the male student's version of what happened, he was guilty by reason of accusation alone.  The suit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages. If the jury decides there are punitive damages the amount will be determined in a second deliberation.

We can't make a prediction about what the jury will do because that will depend on the evidence being presented at the trial. But if you want to know how badly the school behaved in this case, this one fact might just tell the whole story: Brett Sokolow, the architect of the nationwide crackdown to make it easier to expel young men accused of sex crimes (dare we say, even the innocent) -- that Brett Sokolow -- testified on behalf of the male student in this case. Read that again. It is true. We just wrote about Mr. Sokolow earlier this week (see here).

Defense counsel asked Sokolow for his opinion on how Sewanee handled Doe's case. 'The university did not satisfy the standard of care,' Sokolow responded."  

It marks the first time Sokolow has ever testified on behalf of a male student. That's how badly the school behaved.

The unnamed plaintiff was an out-of-state freshman when he and the female student had some sort of sexual contact in his dorm room about 1 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2008. She then left about 7 a.m., walked to an emergency phone and called university police.  Records show that when officers arrived she told them she had been raped and they took her to a hospital. The case was never taken to the district attorney.

According to one newspaper:

"On Aug. 29, 2008, Doe and an 18-year-old female freshman had sexual intercourse in his dorm room, according to court documents. The woman, identified as A.B., stayed for a few hours after the act, left about 7 a.m. and called police to report she had been raped by Doe.

"In court, Wayne [attorney for the male student called "John Doe" at trial] laid out the timeline of events Doe faced.

"On Sept. 16, 2008, A.B. [the accuser] met with Sewanee Dean Eric Hartman, who handles student disciplinary actions. A.B. related her memory of the alleged rape and made a written statement detailing the incident.

"Based on her statement, Hartman categorized the allegation as rape and contacted faculty to begin an investigation.

"Two days later, Hartman spoke with Doe, informing him that he had been charged with violating the school's sexual harassment and assault policy and that there would be a hearing by the faculty committee the following day.

"Wayne told jurors that Hartman told Doe to bring a character witness and talk with his faculty-appointed advocate before the committee meeting. Doe also was told that he would not be allowed into the proceedings except for when he was called to testify, Wayne said.

"Doe said Hartman asked for a written statement and advised Doe to say he was too drunk to know what was going on the night of the incident and that he is sorry.

"The committee met the next day and, within a few hours, found Doe guilty and told him he had two days to leave campus.

"Hartman told Doe to 'destroy' all related materials and that appealing the decision could increase his punishment and possibly cause A.B. to pursue criminal charges, Wayne told the jury. Doe's options, according to Hartman, were to leave school for one semester, reapply for admission with the incident remaining on his student record or withdraw for a year and reapply for the next fall with a clean record.

"Doe left campus and decided on the one-year option, but later decided not to return. In June 2009, he and his parents, identified as James and Mary Doe, filed the lawsuit."

For those of us steeped in the writings of Blackstone, Marshall, Holmes, Brandeis, and Cardozo, this, of course, does not resemble anything remotely approaching justice.  We shall see how the evidence plays out.

UPDATE: 8/30/11 -- a story not available when we wrote the above is found here: -- highlights: "Sokolow characterized the university's hearing process as unfair." And: "Sokolow said the school should have given Doe more time to mount a defense, called medical experts for more information and handed over evidence that could have helped Doe before the hearing." In contrast, the university's expert said: "I believe the one-day notice satisfies the university's standard."  Really? Some standard.  Read this next part -- according to the university's expert: ". . . the university followed the standard methods of such hearings and that the hearings do not rise to the level of scrutiny in a criminal trial. 'This is a disciplinary proceeding, an education opportunity.'"

Yes -- an "education opportunity" that can destroy a young man's life. Colleges would do well to spend more time insuring their hearing processes are fair than in dreaming up ways to gussy up injustice as something noble.