University begins their defense in $3 million lawsuit

University begins their defense in $3 million lawsuit

August 27th, 2011 by Todd South in News

"John Doe" exits the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building for lunch on Tuesday.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

A witness in a federal breach-of-contract trial Friday defended an area college dean's handling of a hearing that led to the expulsion of a student accused of rape, but admitted she knew few details about the university investigation.

Psychology professor Helen Bateman testified as Sewanee: The University of the South's first witness in the fourth day of the trial before U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice.

The plaintiff, identified only as John Doe in court documents, is suing for $3 million in damages to his reputation and claims that the university failed to provide due process when he was accused of rape.

Doe's Washington, D.C.-based attorneys, Charles Wayne and Elisha King, have characterized Sewanee Dean Eric Hartman's involvement in the investigation, hearing and Doe's appeal as inappropriate and the partial cause of Doe's not receiving an opportunity to defend himself during the September 2008 hearing.

But Bateman said that, in her four years serving on the faculty disciplinary committee, Hartman always asked the three-member group if it needed more witnesses or had more questions. She never felt that he attempted to influence the proceedings, she testified.

"He always says, 'I want to stay out of it. I want you guys to come to a decision on your own,'" she told the court.

Wayne asked Bateman if she knew Doe had been informed of the charge against him only the day before the hearing, that the investigation itself took place over a four-hour period when common practice is five to 10 days and that Doe had to sue the university to get access to witness statements and other information after he'd been expelled.

Bateman said she did not know these details but continued to defend the fairness of the hearing.

On Friday morning, Doe completed his testimony. His mother, identified as Mary Doe, and the first attorney the family hired in the case also testified.

On Aug. 29, 2008, Doe and a woman identified in documents as A.B. had sex in Doe's dorm room after drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Shortly afterward, A.B. went down the hallway to use the restroom then returned to Doe's room. She left about 7 a.m. and called police to report being raped by Doe.

On Sept. 16, A.B. reported the alleged rape to Hartman and wrote a statement about what happened. Hartman began an investigation on a Wednesday, then Thursday told Doe that A.B. had accused him of rape and that he would have a hearing the next day.

Hartman made Doe sign a no-contact order, preventing him from talking about the case with anyone. Hartman also told Doe to bring a character witness, meet with his assigned faculty adviser and write his own statement.

Doe was not interviewed by the investigator for the hearing and he was told not to worry about bringing any other witnesses. He was not allowed in the hearing except for when he was called to answer committee questions.

The committee would learn in the hearing that A.B. took four medications for anxiety, depression and narcolepsy. A.B. left the school later that semester and received alcohol and drug treatment. She did not pursue rape charges against Doe.

The committee found Doe guilty of violating the school's sexual assault policy by having sex with someone who could not give consent. He was told to leave campus within two days. On Saturday morning, three days after A.B. told Hartman about the alleged rape, an employee came to Doe's room and told him to pack and leave immediately.

The trial resumes Tuesday when university attorneys Rosemarie Bryan and Aaron Love are expected to call the other two faculty members on the committee.