Federal Jury Hears Testimony In Case Involving Alleged Rape Of Sewanee Freshman

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - by Dennis Norwood

Attorneys for a former University of the South student identified only as John Doe told a Federal Court jury on Tuesday that he did not receive adequate "due process" prior to being kicked out of school following a rape allegation by a female student.

The case, being heard by Judge Sandy Mattice, stems from a civil finding of rape against the former student.

A Faculty Disciplinary Committee found the then-freshman male guilty of a category one sexual infraction in the rape of a fellow freshman student, known as “AB.”

The act took place in the early morning hours of Aug. 30, 2008, in the male student’s dorm room on the campus of the Sewanee, Tn., campus.

The crux of the civil trial is an alleged breach of contract between the school and Doe. It springs from the purported mishandling of Doe’s rights under the university’s policies on sexual harassment. Doe charges he was denied sufficient due process, as well as charging the school with negligence in his case.

According to Judge Mattice, the issues before the jury of two men and seven women in the breach of contract matter are was there a valid contract, was there a breach by the defendant, was it a material breach and did it cause damage to the defendant. Under the negligence aspect the plaintiff must prove that he was owed care by the school and that the school fell below published standards of due process fairness. The jury must also consider whether injury or loss incurred, whether the university's conduct contributed to that loss, and whether the university was the legal cause of any damage.

Doe also claims the school was guilty of negligent distress as well as several other charges.

The case revolves around the actions Dean of Students Eric Hartman took after being notified by “AB” that she had been the victim of rape by Doe. According to Doe’s attorney, Charles Wayne of DLA Piper, LLC of Washington, D.C., Dean Hartman failed to follow the university’s policies and held Doe’s hearings within three days of the incident. He received the results the next day, Friday, and was kicked off campus that Saturday. It was said that Doe only saw “AB’s” statement one hour before his hearing.

The defense’s expert witness, Brett Sokolow of Philadelphia, testified that, “The university did not satisfy the standard of care” towards Doe. Mr. Sokolow will return to the stand when court resumes on Wednesday at 9 a.m.

The university is being represented by Rosemarie Bryan of Chambliss, Bahner and Stophel.

Ms. Bryan told the jurors that they would hear two sides to the story. She read part of “AB’s” statement to the jury which pointed out that the young girl had previously been a virgin and had never engaged in activities such as she had that night. She alleged that she had been drunk and on prescription pills and was not capable of consenting to the sexual behavior.

The defense pointed out that following his leaving Sewanee, Doe moved to California and is currently enrolled ay Auburn University.

Stating that he was not as upset as he purported himself to be, Ms. Bryan pointed out that the plaintiff had since qualified for his sailing license and that his tuition had been covered out of a trust fund set up by his grandfather.

The trial is expected to run into the middle of next week.

(Dennis Norwood is a staff writer for Chattanoogan.com. He can be contacted at dennis.norwood@att.com.)

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