Friday, February 29, 2008
Six pages into the motion, however, Duke's attorneys concede that the ethics rule in question "does not address whether creating a website or holding a press conference would be violations." (One would think that the University would have some precedent for such an unusual request.) Moreover, the ethics rules specifically allow attorneys to make public statements countering negative publicity "not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer's client."
Given the copious negative statements by Duke officials and especially by Duke faculty members about the unindicted lacrosse players, it's hard to imagine a clearer example of negative publicity "not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer's client." It's not hard, however, to imagine why Duke would want to ensure that the lawsuit receives as little publicity as possible.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Q: What are the most troubling items in the lawsuits?
A: Legally, Duke seems to be most vulnerable on two items:
1.) The FERPA claim—that someone at Duke gave the Durham Police federally protected student information (student keycard records) and then Duke, at the very least, remained silent as (a) Nifong subpoenaed these records, after-the-fact; and (b) the court ruled that Nifong shouldn't have access to them.
2.) The failure to enforce its anti-harassment policy. Friday's lawsuit recounts in considerable detail the way in which various professors and (in some cases) students violated the policy in their behavior toward the lacrosse players; despite repeated requests from representatives of the team that Duke enforce its policy, the University, it appears, chose not to do so.
In terms of policy, the two most troubling allegations are: (a) the assertion that, in a campus disciplinary proceeding on a wholly unrelated matter, Matt Wilson was asked by Duke representatives about the party; (b) the claim that Duke pressured its own police officers to modify their reports in such a way to make it appear as if a crime could have occurred.
Q: Why are there two lawsuits?
A: In part because the students in the Ekstrand lawsuit suffered unique, individual harm—Ryan McFadyen through the release of his e-mail, Matt Wilson through what appears to have been disproportionate punishment by Duke and abuse of his campus disciplinary process.
Q: What's the difference between the two suits?
A: For the most part, the suits are directed at the same people. The Ekstrand suit also names DNA Security and Dr. Brian Meehan, but it seems to me unlikely that a suit against either will survive a motion for summary judgment.
The lawsuit filed last week goes into somewhat more detail about Duke's responsibility for the dubious record of Tara Levicy. Both lawsuits touch on, in somewhat different but complementary ways, the haphazard manner in which Duke appears to have dealt with FERPA-related issues.
Q: What is Duke's likely response?
A: I suspect that the response (which is due in around three months) will revolve around three points:
1.) It was all Nifong's fault, and so any civil suit should be directed only at him.
2.) Even if the players suffered harm, they didn't suffer that much harm, and whatever harm that did occur was unintentional.
3.) Perhaps some Duke professors (Reeve Huston, Grant Farred) did behave inappropriately, and perhaps some Duke rules (like prohibiting departmental funds paying for political ads, or requiring that departmental endorsements of ads come from actual votes of the department) were broken, and perhaps some Duke employees (like Tara Levicy) did some improper things. But the administration can't be held responsible for the behavior of individual professors or the wrongdoing of individual employees.
Q: Why didn't Duke settle?
A: That question is very hard to answer. Despite BOT chairman Bob Steel's commendable commitment to transparency in his position as undersecretary of the treasury, in dealing with the aftermath of the lacrosse case, the Brodhead administration has embarked upon a policy widely ridiculed on the Liestoppers forum as "moveon.duke"—i.e., there will be no investigation (or even critical self-reflection) into the conduct of either the administration or especially the faculty.
Judged strictly from the standpoint of the Brodhead administration's self-interest, this approach is unsurprising. The quickest way for a university president to be deposed is to experience a faculty revolt (think Larry Summers). Any inquiry into how the faculty behaved and why so many rushed to judgment would, at the least, ask some hard questions about one-sidedness in Duke's personnel policy and, at the most, recommend punishment for those professors who violated the Faculty Handbook. Either outcome would surely trigger faculty unrest. Better, from Brodhead's perspective, to do nothing.
The drawback with this policy, however, is its expense: a civil suit—complete with discovery and depositions—is the functional equivalent of an inquiry into Duke's conduct in the case. Thus far, then, Duke has settled all civil suits before the discovery phase.
It's unclear why Duke has elected to change its policy now: when it previously settled with the Dowds, the falsely accused players, and former coach Mike Pressler, the University surely knew that a suit from the unindicted players was likely.
Q: What's next?
A: As with the falsely accused players' civil suits against Nifong, the city of
At that point, the case would go before a judge to consider a motion to dismiss. Keeping in mind that, at that stage, all facts of the case must be considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, it seems unlikely that Duke and at least Sgt. Gottlieb and Cpl. Addison could prevail in the motion.
Duke then would have to choose between settling and allowing discovery to proceed.
We're around two months away from the next stage of the civil suit against the city, DNA Security, and Nifong; therefore, the blog will return to hiatus, but when the next filings are made, I'll have some analysis.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
In a development that would surprise only those who have spent the last two years living under a rock, the Bob Ashley-led Herald-Sun editorial board has criticized the lawsuit filed by the unindicted players.
The H-S legal/editorial team, however, reasons that the lawsuit "almost seems to trivialize the concept of damages."
It's worth evaluating Ashley by his own standards. In a summer 2007 interview, he described the paper's editorial performance in the following manner: "We were opinionated, but we were fair."
That record included the following March 28, 2006 editorial (which Ashley defended in an interview with the Chronicle):
When police officers arrived at the house with a search warrant on March 16, none of the players would cooperate with the investigation [sic] . . . The allegations of rape bring the students’ arrogant frat-boy culture to a whole new, sickening level. ‘Get a conscience, not a lawyer,’ read [potbangers’] signs waved in front of the house on Sunday. We agree that the alleged crime isn’t the only outrage. It’s also outrageous that not a single person who was in the house felt compelled to step forward and tell the truth about what happened [sic].
Ashley, in short, doesn't seem to be someone particularly well-qualified to evaluate fairness.
[Update, 9.30am ET]: As a reminder that the best paper in Durham isn't the H-S, Kristin Butler pens yet another must-read column. Her conclusion on the suit:
Don't expect admins to acknowledge that is was their unique combination of ignorance, arrogance and denial that brought us to this point.
But the inconvenient and unavoidable truth now seems to be that in his haste to avoid the perception "that a well-connected institution was improperly attempting to influence the judicial process" back in March 2006, Brodhead created many more problems than he solved.
In their apologia for the Group of 88's statement, the "clarifying" faculty decried—without providing any evidence—an atmosphere that allowed "sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus."
In a stunning piece for City Journal, Heather McDonald deconstructs the assumptions behind this claim. Since the late 1980s, ideologues have claimed that between 20 and 25 percent of college women will be victims of sexual assault. That figure, McDonald notes, would imply "a crime wave of unprecedented proportions"—ten times the rate of all violent crimes in violence-ridden
The lack of any evidence to corroborate their assertions, McDonald observes, doesn't deter ideologues like the "clarifying" faculty. Instead, it means "that the abuse of coeds is worse than anyone had ever imagined. It means that consultants and counselors need more funding to persuade student rape victims to break the silence of their suffering."
And, of course, more faculty who think like the Group of 88.
Monday, February 25, 2008
At this stage of events, it would seem unlikely that any more new items would appear. But, of course, that’s not the case. Both the lawsuit filed last week on behalf of 38 players and Bob Ekstrand’s December lawsuit, filed on behalf of Ryan McFadyen, Matt Wilson, and Breck Archer, brought a host of new information to the table.
Perhaps the two most significant items, one from each lawsuit:
1.) The Day memo
In May 2006, the Bowen/Chambers report—whose chief motivation appeared to be negating the Coleman Committee’s largely positive portrayal of the lacrosse players—inadvertently revealed that Duke Police Officer Christopher Day had penned a report, from the night of the party, stating that a Durham Police officer had told his superiors that Crystal Mangum had claimed that 20 people raped her. The Day report suggested that Mangum was—to put it charitably—a less than reliable complainant.
Day later filed an “amendment” casting doubt on his initial report’s reliability. Yet, as we know now, his first report was correct: as the Nifong ethics trial depositions revealed, Sgt. John Shelton had just the conversation on which Day reported.
Friday’s filing makes the explosive claim: “Once the case exploded into public view on March 24, however, Duke still did not produce Officer Day’s report to the lacrosse players or the public. On the contrary, on information and belief, Duke actively took steps to suppress this report, to silence Officer Day, and later (when the existence of Day’s report became public) to discredit the report.”
The Ekstrand lawsuit discusses the highly questionable Duke judicial inquiry into lacrosse player Matt Wilson. In early summer 2006,
Even more problematic were the events of
By its own standards, then, Duke obstructed justice by interrogating
Other new items:
1.) Gottlieb on the case: March 15, 2006
One mystery of the case is how, exactly, Mangum’s complaint wound up in the lap of Duke-hating Sgt. Mark Gottlieb. Gottlieb had been reassigned away from dealing with Duke students (because of his pattern of abusive behavior towards them), and was involved with the property crimes, not the sex crimes, unit of the DPD.
Friday’s lawsuit provides the most convincing explanation of this conundrum: to Mangum on March 15, this wasn’t a sexual assault case at all. Instead, it was a robbery case, with the sole suspect Kim Roberts. Mangum informed Duke Police Officer B.S. Jones that she wanted to file charges against Roberts. And so, the suit contends, “In response to this phone call from Mangum, Jones referred Mangum’s case to Sergeant Mark Gottlieb, who was in charge of Property Crimes for District 2 of the
2.) In-class harassment: March 24, 2006
Until now, the earliest known date of in-class harassment by a Duke professor was on March 27, when History professor Reeve Huston shared the results of his “research” with his class: a sexual assault—complete with “ejaculation”—took place. The six lacrosse players in Huston’s class walked out of the proceedings. (Huston has refused repeated requests for comment on his behavior.)
According to Friday’s lawsuit, however, the first in-class harassment actually occurred on March 24—or the day after the initial press reports about the fraudulent non-testimonial order. The lawsuit notes,
Already on Friday, March 24, at least one lacrosse player, Peter Lamade, was subjected to in-class harassment by his professor before his peers. This would be the first of many such incidents in the ensuing weeks, as the campus atmosphere, exacerbated by the vitriolic harassment of the activist professors and student protestors, became hostile and intolerable to the lacrosse team.
3.) The parents’ meeting: March 25, 2006
Duke never investigated the claims of in-class harassment—even after administrators received reports of improper faculty behavior at an April 6, 2006 meeting with coaches. Friday’s lawsuit makes clear that parents had pressed for Duke to enforce its own procedures—but that the University had refused to do so:
The parents asked Moneta to remind professors of Duke’s policy . . . prohibiting harassment of students, including in-class harassment of students by professors. Moneta refused, even though, as noted above, at least one lacrosse player had been the subject of such in-class harassment the day before.
4.) FERPA: April 5, 2006
One of the most serious allegations in Friday’s lawsuit involves the University’s apparent decision to share student keycode information with the Durham Police. If true, this act would have violated federal law (the so-called FERPA). For those outside the academy: colleges and universities take FERPA very seriously. Universities might ignore media criticism, or even alumni criticism, but they live in (justified) terror of federal inquiries.
Yet, as the Ekstrand lawsuit points out, Duke was aware of its obligations under FERPA in other ways. The University wanted to be able to get the p.r. benefit from its decision to suspend Ryan McFadyen. Yet student disciplinary records cannot be publicly revealed without the student signing a FERPA waiver. On the chaotic day of April 5—when Brodhead canceled the season and fired Coach Pressler—university officials nonetheless tracked down McFadyen to get him to sign a waiver. Though they had time to do so, they didn’t make any effort to ask him about the context of his e-mail.
5.) Duke/Durham Police
A consistent refrain from the Brodhead administration: it couldn’t look into the allegations, because Duke had no authority to conduct a criminal inquiry.
Yet, as the Ekstrand lawsuit pointed out, not only did Duke have the authority, it had primary authority. Duke and
Duke officials had never revealed the existence of the arrangement.
6.) Board of Trustees chairman Bob Steel
Throughout the case, Steel was nothing short of a p.r. nightmare for Duke. In August 2006, he totally contradicted the official Duke line for canceling the season (punishment for the party, a need to defer to the criminal justice process). Instead, he informed the New Yorker, the season was canceled because “we had to stop those pictures [of the players practicing]. It doesn’t mean that it’s fair, but we had to stop it. It doesn’t necessarily mean I think it was right—it just had to be done.”
Friday’s lawsuit indicated that Steel’s tendency to wander off message wasn’t confined to the New Yorker interview. As the lawsuit notes, the Board chairman “later stated to Sally Fogarty, mother of player Gibbs Fogarty, regarding the firing of Coach Pressler: ‘Life sucks. Bad things happen to good people and you better get used to it.’”
Steel’s deposition doubtless will be an interesting affair.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Reporters found numbers of Duke students and faculty members eager to offer their opinion that many lacrosse players were little better than swaggering sexist louts. The story was shaping up as a morality tale about arrogant rich boys abusing a young black woman working her way through school. Duke cancelled the rest of the team's season. But when the accuser's story turned out to have as many holes as an ancient athletic sock, Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong refused to drop the prosecution. Eventually, it was Nifong, not the lacrosse players, who was put on trial.
But, the editorial nonetheless criticizes the lawsuit, on the grounds that the "the players and their families [do not] seem eligible for food stamps."
It might be, as the Star-News implies, that federal law should be changed to allow only those whose families are eligible for food stamps to file civil suits. Such a change, however, would eliminate one of the key effects of civil litigation--deterring against future misconduct. As Jim Coleman explained in September, in discussing the three falsely accused players' civil suit against Durham, “When the city acts in ways that are so totally outrageous and could have been prevented, I think the damages ought to be sufficient to deter that kind of behavior in the future and also to send a message to other cities and prosecutors across the state."
The same line of critique, of course, could apply to Duke, especially since no indication exists that the University has enacted any reforms suggesting that it learned lessons from the case.
Cutting through the legalese, what the players -- none of whom were charged in the dismissed sex assault case -- are saying, especially as it applies to Duke, is that instead of supporting them, the university sat back while they were under general harassment . . .
Not named is any news organization. And I realize that there may be no sound legal grounds to include a newspaper or a TV or radio station or an Internet site as a defendant in such a suit, but -- and I'll likely be considered a heretic in the church of the Fourth Estate for saying so -- that's too bad.
If indeed the players and their families suffered emotionally, if a player's reputation remains forever tarnished as "that guy who was on the Duke lacrosse team when," then a fair amount of blame falls on the media.
And not for merely reporting the story. That's what we do. And sometimes, simply reporting on a case fairly and down the middle causes emotional distress to the innocent and creates unflattering impressions that last a long time. Still, it is our obligation to do the reporting.
But this case was different. There was something akin to a Salem-like hysteria going on in the early days of the Duke lacrosse case with newspaper columnists and broadcast and Internet pundits taking bits and pieces, such as some players' early reluctance to talk with investigators, and building a case of obvious guilt. The judgment was as vitriolic as it was premature.
To be fair, those types of observations, when they appeared in print, came largely from opinion writers and not in news stories. But the public sometimes doesn't discern among the types of information with which it's bombarded, and the resentment and tension in
Durhamand on the Duke campus fed on the in-print and on-air rushes to judgment.
Finally, on the N&O op-ed page was none other than Group of 88 stalwart Karla Holloway. In a bizarre critique of media coverage of this year's presidential race, Holloway claims, "America reads race as a minority identity, with whiteness being the unstated norm. In the ongoing presidential race, the political pundits chatter easily about the Latino vote, or the black vote, which seems just fine until the illogic of that calculus rears its discomfiting head. If some of us are black or Latino or Asian, then (gasp!) others of us are white . . . Newscasters have suddenly found themselves having to acknowledge that not all the male or female voters are black or Latino or Asian -- identities that have heretofore been easily spoken. There is another side of the equation. But even with analysts like Matthews speaking that identity in acknowledging 'white men,' this concentration on race does a disservice to all voters."
One wonders if Holloway has been following American politics at any point in the last three decades. She appears unaware that political analysts cited the "Reagan Democrats"--white ethnic voters--as critical to the 1980 election. Or "angry white men" as the driving force behind the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Anyone who has watched even a few minutes of election-night TV coverage over the last three decades can doubtless recall exit polls discussing white (as well as black and Hispanic) voters.
Having deemed as novel a situation that is, in fact, not new, Holloway urges people to avoid "easily sliding into racial rhetoric," to "admit their discomfort with racial designations," to adopt a "diminished interest in producing race as the singular difference that matters." Coming from a person whose approach to the lacrosse case appeared almost entirely race-based, and who said that she would again sign the Group of 88 statement in a "heartbeat," this advice reeks of hypocrisy.
But how, according to Holloway, should America adopt a "diminished interest in producing race as the singular difference that matters"? Through "diversity" hiring in the media: "It would be a good result if, at the very least, our nightly news would include a diverse field of commentators past this moment when a potential first black president is the subject of the season."
Friday, February 22, 2008
“The simple truth is that Brodhead and Duke were indifferent to the truth.” That’s perhaps the most powerful line in a lawsuit filed yesterday behalf of 38 of the unindicted lacrosse players and their families. The suit was filed against President Richard Brodhead, a host of Duke administrators, and the city of
The suit’s basic argument: Duke’s actions exhibited a troubling pattern of (a) refusing to enforce its own procedures—whether regarding supervision of SANE nurse-in-training Tara Levicy or upholding the provisions of the University’s anti-harassment code—when doing so would have helped its students who were members of the lacrosse team; and (2) withholding from the public information in its possession that would have cast doubt on Nifong’s theories; and (3) issuing highly misleading statements and perhaps even (in the suit’s most explosive allegation) seeking to manufacture evidence to suggest the players’ guilt.
The suit alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress; fraud and conspiracy to defraud; breach of duty to protect students from known dangers and harassment; breach of contract; and negligent supervision of duke professors and employees. The following passage lays out the suit’s basic claim against Duke:
Throughout the rape hoax crisis, as Nifong, Durham police and city officials, activist Duke professors and student protestors, the media, and others repeatedly publicly declared the players guilty of a savage gang rape and a “wall of silence” designed to conceal the truth, Duke took no action to disclose the exculpatory evidence in Duke’s exclusive possession, or to confirm the players’ full cooperation with the investigation. Rather, Duke took active steps to suppress exculpatory evidence in its possession and to silence its employees who knew of it. Duke also implicitly condoned and approved of, and thereby encouraged, the efforts of Duke faculty members, academic departments, and students to harass and condemn the lacrosse players, even conferring its official imprimatur upon the most inflammatory of faculty statements against the lacrosse team—the so-called “Group of 88” ad . . . At the same time, the Brodhead administration executed a series of carefully timed reprimands and other disciplinary actions against the lacrosse team that were based on Mangum’s rape allegations and that generated a public impression of the players’ guilt.
Nor, the suit notes, can the University claim that the President and Board of Trustees should not be held responsible:
After Mangum’s rape allegations had been publicly exposed as a malicious and tragic hoax, Brodhead admitted that we “had responsibility for the statements the university made and the actions the university took” throughout the rape hoax crisis. Chairman Steel, who had taken an active role in collaborating with President Brodhead throughout the crisis, likewise later acknowledged that throughout the rape hoax crisis, Brodhead “had consulted regularly with the Trustees” and that “the board agreed with the . . . actions he took.” Steel affirmed that “anyone critical of President Brodhead should be similarly critical of the entire board.” Under Brodhead’s and Steel’s direction, Duke capitulated to the various demands and pressures from the media, activist faculty members, and student protestors with a calculated, skillfully executed strategy of statements, actions, and omissions designed to protect Duke’s and their own interests by publicly maligning and punishing the players and distancing Duke from them.
Some of the suit’s key points:
1.) Tara Levicy
Her actions, the suit contends, were malicious, willful and wanton”; her conduct “was intended to and did cause mental anguish and severe emotional distress to the plaintiffs or was committed with reckless disregard for its foreseeable impact on the plaintiffs’ emotional states.”
Levicy is not only a defendant but, as an employee of Duke, is a critical component of the suit. Since Levicy’s actions “were performed in the scope of employment . . . managers, trustees, and/or officers of
The filing traces Levicy’s dismal record throughout the case. Her March 16, 2006 assertion—“with an intentional, or at least reckless, disregard for the truth”—that “there were signs consistent with sexual assault,” even though her exam (as the Attorney General’s investigation would make clear) had actually produced no such evidence. Her “crucially false and misleading statements” to Gottlieb on March 21, 2006 that the SANE exam suggested that Crystal Mangum had experienced “blunt force trauma.” Her undocumented contacts with Nifong later in the case.
As the filing makes clear, Levicy’s conduct had an enormous impact: given the inherent unreliability of Mangum’s stories, “the prestige and credibility of
In short, if
2.) Duke didn’t enforce its own policies prohibiting the harassment of students.
Lest anyone forget, the suit lays out the atmosphere in which the lacrosse players existed in the spring of 2006.
The combination of faculty animosity, faculty and student protests, community outrage, and a massive invasion of the Duke campus by local and national media, transformed Duke into what CBS News described as a “Campus Under Siege.” The atmosphere was intensely hostile, even dangerous, for the lacrosse players. They were accosted and intimidated at their homes and on campus by large groups of angry, pot-banging student protestors carrying “castrate” signs and yelling threats. Their faces appeared on “Wanted”-style posters that flooded the campus and
. Some players were publicly singled out in class by their professors for harassment and condemnation. They were besieged by news reporters and camera crews. They lived in fear of physical attacks, under threats of drive-by shootings and racial violence. Increased police patrols were required in the neighborhood where many of them lived. They were forced to flee from town during their final exams when a menacing radical hate group called the New Black Panthers descended on the campus. And in the midst of this intense community outrage and national media attention, 88 Duke professors took out a full-page ad in the student newspaper publicly thanking student protestors for “not waiting and for making yourselves heard.” Durham
As the suit notes, “Nowhere in his April 5 public statement, nor in any other public utterance throughout the rape hoax crisis, did Brodhead criticize the activist faculty members and student protestors or call upon them to stop their outrageous harassment and threatening behavior and their vitriolic, hate-filled comments toward the lacrosse players.” (Indeed, on April 20, 2006, he actually shared the platform with the one student who had publicly confessed to distributing the vigilante posters, and with Mark Anthony—“thugniggaintellectual”—Neal.) Argue the plaintiffs, “Brodhead thus tacitly condoned and encouraged the activist faculty members and student protestors in their conduct against the lacrosse players. “
At the very least, the suit argues, Duke didn’t enforce its “formal, written policy strictly forbidding harassment of any student ‘for any reason.’” What were the acts that violated this policy? “Myriad public and private statements by Richard Brodhead, Robert Steel, John Burness, the activist faculty members and student protestors, and others condemning the plaintiffs, impugning their integrity, and implying and/or explicitly stating that they were guilty of criminal activity; the ad placed in the Duke Chronicle and subsequent group and individual statements by the Group of 88; harassing student protests on campus and in front of the lacrosse players’ residences, which were conducted and/or organized in part by Duke faculty members and other employees; the ‘Wanted’ and other posters distributed and posted throughout campus because of the acts and/or omissions of Duke and its agents; and in-class condemnations by Duke professors.”
The anti-harassment policy “also specifically prohibits harassment of any student “on any demographic basis,” including among other things race, color, ethnic origin, gender, and class. Throughout the rape hoax crisis, however, Duke made no effort whatever to enforce its anti-harassment policy against the open and flagrant violations of the policy by certain activist faculty members and student protestors . . . [Indeed] numerous statements made by Duke faculty members evinced discrimination and bias against the lacrosse players on the basis of their race, gender, and class.” This behavior, the suit contends, included “in-class harassment on the basis of race and/or gender,” and “Duke took no action to investigate, punish, or otherwise enforce its anti-harassment policies against these clear violations.”
The highest profile example of this pattern, of course, was the Group of 88’s ad. As the suit notes, even some of the ad’s signatories have conceded the deep harm it caused:
Months later, after Mangum’s rape charge, and the ensuing investigation into it, had been exposed as a malicious and tragic hoax, Susan Thorne, an associate professor and associate chair of the Department of History who signed the Group of 88 ad, said of the ad: ‘I deeply regret, deeply regret contributing to tremendous harm that was done to [the plaintiffs]. I can understand any hostility they feel for me.’”
The basic conclusion:
On its face, and when considered in light of all the circumstances surrounding its publication, the ad made unmistakably clear that its faculty signatories and departmental sponsors believed that Mangum’s rape allegations were true, and it wrongfully, knowingly, and willfully subjected the players to notoriety, opprobrium, derision, humiliation, and well-founded fear for their own safety. Due to its defamatory and inflammatory message, its express exhortation to the “protestors making collective noise” to “turn up the volume” and “make yourselves heard,” and its high profile on the Duke campus (and throughout the country), the ad interfered significantly with the players’ work and education, adversely affected their living conditions, and caused the players serious harm—emotional, reputational, and otherwise.
Through its silence, Duke confirmed that the ad represented the official position not only of 15 Duke academic departments and programs, but of
itself. Months later, after Mangum’s rape allegations and Nifong’s investigation had been publicly exposed as a malicious and tragic hoax, Brodhead acknowledged that activist faculty members and student protestors “were quick to speak as if the [rape] charges were true . . . , and some faculty made statements that were ill-judged and divisive.” Brodhead also admitted that “the public as well as the accused students and their families could have thought that those were expressions of the university as a whole.” Duke University
3.) Duke administrators not only remained silent in the face of statements by authorities, the media, and Duke professors that the administrators knew were untrue—but administrators took actions that aided the investigation.
This pattern, the suit contends, began at the start of the case, with the March 23 NTO. According to the suit, the “statements in the NTO application, publicly available and widely reported, were false. Moreover, Duke knew or should have known that they were demonstrably false, on the basis of medical evidence in Duke’s exclusive possession. Duke took no action to rebut or correct these public charges.” The pattern of Duke’s withholding exculpatory information in its possession continued through Brodhead’s March 25 statement canceling the
According to the suit, Duke administrators knew or should have known that: (1) Levicy had provided false or misleading testimony; and (2) the players had cooperated with the investigation, rather than creating a “wall of silence.” Even so, they “watched silently as Nifong characterized the evidence and otherwise commented on the case and the lacrosse players in a way that Duke knew or should have known to be false. To the contrary, Duke improperly provided Nifong’s investigators with critical credibility and cooperation in a number of ways: Duke illegally disclosed the key card reports; Duke took official actions and made official and unofficial statements to the media that were calculated to malign the lacrosse players and to distance Duke from them; Duke took no significant action to ensure that its activist faculty members and student protestors, who were presuming the players’ guilt and inflaming public outrage against the lacrosse team, were adhering to University standards of behavior, including its anti-harassment policy. And Duke would continue, in the ensuing weeks, to fuel these attacks on its own students.”
4.) Duke violated federal law.
The plaintiffs also claim that Duke violated federal law (FERPA) that protects student rights. The suit contends,
At some time on March 31, Investigators Smith and Stotsenberg of the Duke Police handed over to Gottlieb several reports. Among the reports, according to Gottlieb’s later testimony, was “one key card report for the Duke team members from March 13 and March 14.” This report was prepared by the Duke Card Office of
. Duke University
The key card reports provided information on when and where the members of the lacrosse team had swiped their Duke ID cards in slots on locations at Duke’s campus during March 13 and March 14. Many of the doors, dining facilities, vending machines, photocopy machines, and so forth on Duke’s campus are operated by these key card slots. For example, to access virtually any exterior door of Duke’s dormitories and academic buildings requires the swiping of a Duke key card. The key card reports thus allowed the Durham Investigators to roughly track the movements of lacrosse players on Duke’s campus on March 13 and 14. These reports therefore aided the Durham Investigators in their effort to determine which lacrosse players had been in
on the night of the alleged rape and had likely attended the party. Durham
No subpoena had been issued for these reports. In the absence of a subpoena (and the opportunity for the interested parties to quash the subpoena), the disclosure of information in these reports -- most notably, but not necessarily limited to, the key card report -- was a clear violation of the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA), as well as Duke’s own privacy policies.
The University then, the suit argued, conspired with
And, finally, the most explosive allegation, regarding the report of Duke Police officer Christopher Day, who (accurately) reported that he overheard a DPD officer (John Shelton) state that Mangum claim to have been raped by 20 people.
Duke, the suit contends, “took two actions directed toward bolstering the credibility of Mangum’s rape allegations. First, Officer Day of the Duke Police added a “continuation page” as an addendum to his police report prepared at
“On information and belief, in addition to suppressing the Day report, Duke police officials, at Nifong’s request, also directed Duke police officers who had been present at
Duke’s response: “If these plaintiffs have a complaint, it is with Mr. Nifong.” This is, to put it mildly, a peculiar argument: it’s not clear to me how Nifong was responsible for Duke’s decision to allow its faculty and students to violate the University’s anti-harassment policy; or for Officer Day to rewrite his report; or for Duke’s failure to supervise Tara Levicy; or for Duke’s decision to supply federally protected student records to the police.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Q. When the Duke Lacrosse "rape" case first erupted, the New York Times sports section was one of the leading cheerleaders for the conviction and slandering of the Duke team as a whole and the three charged players. When the charges imploded, the players exonerated, and Michael Nifong disbarred, the sports section and "pundits" remained steadfastly silent. Since you are the chief editor, one must assume that you led and approved of all the reporting (and non-reporting) and the commentary (however incorrect and one-sided). Question: As the editor of the sports section how do you justify your behavior in toto?
— Rex Avery
A. Dear Mr. Avery: First, let me clarify that our reporters remained involved in the coverage of the Duke case throughout. [Indeed they did: Duff Wilson remained involved throughout, and the central conclusion of his major article in the news section was deemed false by no less than the AG's report.] The placement of the articles moved into the national section of the paper once it became a court case, as is generally the case with such stories, including the rape cases against Kobe Bryant and Mike Tyson. We've written stories about the team since it was reinstated and covered its run to the title game last season.
As far as our coverage of the case itself, if the essence of your question is whether I feel good about it, the answer is that I very much regret my failure to recognize that we were dealing with a rogue prosecutor and that the university had compounded his bravado by overreacting to the initial reports about the case. I don't recall another instance of a university canceling the season of a team that was a contender for a national championship. Nor do I recall a similar example of a prosecutor launching such an aggressively wrongheaded investigation.
But the bottom line is that I'd do some things differently, and that knowledge gained by hindsight has informed our approach to other stories since then.
Jolly, unfortunately, did not say what he would have done differently, and the effect of his statement was somewhat minimized by his response to a previous question in the thread, about the departure of the worst of the guilt-presuming sports columnists, Selena Roberts: "Selena's voice is unique and finding a suitable replacement won't be easy, but we will."
Nonetheless, Jolly's statement is by far the clearest acknowledgment of regret for the paper's poor performance from anyone affiliated with the Times.
Monday, February 11, 2008
What it does not have the right to do, however, is apply one standard of behavior to politically correct students and another standard of behavior to all other students. In the aftermath of the lacrosse case, Duke adopted a new rule, which stated, "Strippers may not be invited or paid to perform at events sponsored by individual students, residential living groups, or cohesive units." Note that the rule was an absolute prohibition: it did not exempt strippers invited for politically correct purposes or by politically correct groups.
My colleague Stuart Taylor explored the issue in his column this week for National Journal, and Kristin Butler critiques the regulatory doublethink behind Duke's actions.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
In a question-and-answer session last month, I was asked what lessons other states could draw from the lacrosse case. I suggested that the case showed the benefits of open-file discovery (without which Mike Nifong clearly would have concealed all exculpatory evidence) and the need for all states to enact due process-friendly identification procedures.
In his second major article on the case (his previous article appeared in Fordham Law Review; this one was published by George Mason Law Review), Duke Law professor Robert Mosteller tackles the first of these issues. He convincingly argues that
Broad ethics guidelines about a prosecutor’s responsibility, according to Mosteller, are extremely difficult to enforce: “These cases, including Nifong’s disbarment, demonstrate the difficulties inherent in professional discipline of prosecutors, even in clear cases of ethical misconduct. The ethical duty to ‘do justice’ is hardly a real source of discipline.” Instead, he contends, the three cases “show the importance of concrete standards of conduct, such as an obligation of full disclosure, which apply to the mundane details of the investigation as well as the exculpatory. Such requirements have the definite advantage that they can be enforced in the first instance without relying on a prosecutor to recognize, or a trial court to find, the exculpatory potential in material in the investigative file.”
Mosteller spells out the case against open file discovery more clearly than those
The interests of justice, nonetheless, trump these concerns. The Gell, Honeycutt, and Nifong affairs demonstrate “the paramount importance of a broad and sure disclosure requirement in criminal cases that, in the first instance, helps prevent failures of ethical standards from ever occurring because little opportunity is allowed for misjudging what is potentially exculpatory evidence. Where an initial failure occurs, such pro-visions also assist the court and opposing counsel in learning of the failure at a relatively early stage in the proceeding”—which is exactly what occurred in the lacrosse case.
Mosteller’s argues details the Bar’s difficulties in obtaining stern discipline against the prosecutors in the Gell case (who he strongly implies deserved a harsher punishment than they received) and former D.A. Honeycutt. He spends most of his lacrosse case section analyzing Nifong’s failure to turn over the exculpatory DNA evidence. Mosteller notes the stark differences between the key sections of Dr. Brian Meehan’s two reports, the first of which was issued on May 12, 2006, the second in January 2007. The sections read as follows, with Mosteller’s emphasis added:
Individual DNA profiles for non-probative evidence specimens and suspect reference specimens are being retained at DSI pending notification of the client. Three of the reference specimens are consistent with DNA profiles obtained from some evidence items and the analysis of these specimens is below.
Individual DNA profiles for evidence specimens (item numbers 15772, 15776, 15785, 15816-15818) consistent with male profiles that did not match DNA profiles from any reference specimens and DNA profiles for reference specimens . . . were being retained at DSI pending notification from the client . . . .
“The difference in the italicized language,” Mosteller observes, “is striking” (and is a critical reason why Dr. Meehan and DNA Security are facing a civil suit). “Elsewhere in the report these specimen numbers are identified as obtained from the panties, the rectal swabs, and the combing of the pubic area. The language of the first report suggests inconsequential results; the revised report’s language speaks of significant and exculpatory conclusions.”
The State Bar’s grievance committee brought charges against Nifong for two reasons (the DNA withholding and the improper public statements), but Mosteller contends that “the lion’s share of the work [in exposing Nifong] was done by the discovery statute. Its routine application produced the basis for further requests, and its standard requirement of full disclosure established an expectation of compliance that the trial judge treated as routine. The persistent work of excellent counsel moved the process of further disclosure forward step by step and established, in the process, a record of Nifong’s deceptive statements in court that was at the center of his undoing.”
Mosteller praises the defense attorneys for repeatedly pressing the issue with Nifong in court hearings—giving the DA an opportunity to come clean or seal his own fate by repeatedly lying. He astutely suggests that Nifong’s weeklong delay in handing over the underlying DNA test results (which were due on October 20, 2006, but which weren’t delivered until October 27, 2006) probably had a political motivation—the DA worried his failure to turn over exculpatory evidence would be revealed before the election.
Even once Nifong turned over Meehan’s files, Mosteller notes, “few defense attorneys, most of whom like [Brad] Bannon have minimal scientific training, would have had the ability to do what he did even if they had the perseverance and could commit that amount of time to the task, which he believed was only gaining a better understanding of incriminating but ambiguous scientific results.” The lesson: “for indigent defendants, trial courts should freely grant requests for expert services to help the defense understand the significance of the evidence. Disclosure of data under Brady means little if it cannot be understood. Moreover, if as this case demonstrates, prosecutors may not flag the significance of the data, ready access to expertise is the only meaningful alternative.”
What’s the overall legacy of not only the lacrosse case but also the Gell and Honeycutt affairs?
“Full disclosure solves, or at least helps solve, Brady issues. With regard to all these cases, there is no clear indication that any evidence was given to the defense because the prosecutor chose to provide exculpatory evidence or any court ordered the production of Brady evidence. As best I can determine, even in the Duke Lacrosse case, I can find no discretionary ruling that the trial court made in terms of discovery that was tilted in favor of the defense. Rather, the judges accepted the representations of the prosecutor and denied the innovative or unusual requests of the defense.” [Recall the rejected requests by Judge Stephens to require Meehan to memorialize his conversations, or by Judge Smith to require Nifong to specify when, exactly, he believed the “crime” occurred.] “The judges only granted what the discovery law required and did so in step by step fashion as the defense demonstrated the existence of the evidence and the law’s application to it.”
In Mosteller’s opinion, quite beyond Nifong’s complete lack of ethics, a structural problem exists: “Ethical principles, Brady, and our adversary system require a prosecutor to operate with a type of split personality.” On the one hand, the prosecutor is supposed to do justice and hand over exculpatory material. But “for a prosecutor who has reached the conclusion that the accused is guilty, which obviously should be updated as new evidence is received, there can be no true exculpatory evidence.”
The solution: full open-file discovery, which “is obvious as a remedy for the difficulty of subjective choice in a competitive adversarial environment.”
Mosteller’s conclusion is well-taken:
The disbarment of Nifong will likely help. The sanction imposed sends a strong message, and surely it will encourage future disclosures of potentially exculpatory evidence. However, the message to be taken from
’s experience, including both its failures and triumphs in prosecutorial discipline, is that broad disclosure laws make the real difference. North Carolina
I will keep this post up for a few days before folding it behind the glossary; the next major posts will come in around nine weeks, unless something significant in the case occurs before then.