Current Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2014 03:37:02 -0400
With what should be just weeks to go until the Honor Court trial of sophomore Landen Gambill and her ex-boyfriend, Gambill’s lawyer said Monday that she will no longer be participating.
In a Monday letter to Chancellor Holden Thorp, Henry Clay Turner, Gambill’s attorney from the McSurely & Turner law firm, said the Honor Court case Gambill is facing is a “reckless prosecution” — and demanded that the case be dropped.
“The retaliatory charges against my client are inappropriate, unconstitutional and utterly without merit,” Turner wrote in the letter.
Turner also wrote in the letter that Gambill filed a new — and third — complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Monday based on the alleged retaliation.
The announcement that Gambill will not attend the trial comes on the heels of a nearly month-long effort from Gambill to have UNC drop a charge filed against her.
Gambill was charged Feb. 22 with a conduct violation of the University’s Honor Code that claims she engaged in disruptive or intimidating behavior against the man she has publicly accused of raping her.
Henry Ross, deputy student attorney general for the honor system, said if a student does not attend his or her trial, a plea of not guilty is entered on his or her behalf.
He said that even if a student is absent, his or her counsel — an undergraduate Honor Court member — would be required to attend.
“You would never run a hearing without counsels for both sides,” Ross said.
Though he could not speak to whether Gambill would face consequences for refusing to attend, he said it is always in a student’s best interest to be present for a hearing.
“I can’t think of a situation in which it would be advantageous or neutral for someone to refuse the option they have been given to speak on their own behalf,” Ross said.
Neither Gambill nor Turner could be reached for comment Monday.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said that in student judiciary proceedings, the student facing charges is usually not required to appear in court and testify.
While LoMonte said he cannot speak for the UNC case, he cited a sexual assault case at Oklahoma State University in which a male student was charged with violating university sexual misconduct policy. The student did not attend his student judiciary hearing.
“In a proceeding like that, if the student targeted by the accuser chose not to put up a defense then the panel has to go with the evidence before it,” LoMonte said.
“That doesn’t mean that the person who doesn’t show up loses; it’s still the burden of the person bringing the complaint to show that it’s well-founded. Even in the absence of defense, if the accuser doesn’t meet their legal burden the case could still be dismissed,” he said.
The letter also harshly criticizes UNC administrators, claiming that the charge brought against Gambill is retaliation for speaking out about how UNC handled her sexual assault trial heard in the spring of 2012.
Though the University has repeatedly stated that it has no hand in charging students with Honor Code violations, Turner’s letter said that “is simply not the case.”
“You, Chancellor Thorp, have the authority and the responsibility to immediately dismiss this charge,” Turner said in the letter.
The letter cites the responsibilities of the chancellor defined by UNC’s Instrument of Student Judicial Governance, which says that the chancellor remains solely responsible for all matters of student discipline.
But the Instrument later states the chancellor has in the past granted the responsibility of student conduct policy to other parties.
“The chancellor has typically and traditionally conferred student discipline to the student-led honor system,” said Undergraduate Student Attorney General Amanda Claire Grayson in a previous interview.
Gambill has said in previous interviews that charging her with an Honor Code violation is backlash for speaking out about UNC’s treatment of sexual assault victims and for filing complaints with two offices in the U.S. Department of Education — the Office for Civil Rights and the Clery Act Compliance Division.
Both complaints were opened for investigation this month — after Gambill was charged.
“This charge is a flagrant example of how UNC is willing to treat survivors in order to protect perpetrators,” Gambill said in February.
Thorp said in a March 2 statement that administrators have no authority over Honor Court charge decisions.
“The accusation that the University has retaliated against a student for filing a complaint is totally and completely false,” Thorp said.
University spokeswoman Karen Moon declined to comment Monday.
John Gresham, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen who represents Gambill’s ex-boyfriend — the man she has repeatedly accused of rape — said UNC played no role in the complaint filed by Gambill’s ex-boyfriend.
“(Administrators) didn’t seek him out to file a complaint,” Gresham said. “They had no contact with him. I advised him to file the complaint.”
“It would be my guess that the University would have hoped my client would not file this charge, based on all the attention since,” he said.
LoMonte said the composition of university honor courts determines to what extent administrators have an influence over proceedings, adding that judiciaries entirely made up of students are likely to operate independently.
“If the university knowingly presses forward with what they are certain is a frivolous case, then they can be at fault,” he said.
“But if it truly is something that is insulated from administrators’ involvement, at least at the investigation, it’s hard to attribute their behavior to the administrators and to the institution.”
“If a student organization commits a wrongful act you can hold that organization responsible, but you can’t typically attribute their behavior to a college as a whole.”
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