Chancellor Holden Thorp announced Tuesday that he has asked the student-led Honor Court to suspend the trial of sophomore Landen Gambill and her ex-boyfriend, pending an external review of Gambill’s repeated claims that the University is retaliating against her.
The statement comes just one day after Gambill’s lawyer, Henry Clay Turner, sent a letter to UNC demanding that Thorp drop charges against Gambill — which were brought by her ex-boyfriend, the man she has publicly accused of rape. In the letter, Turner added that Gambill will not participate in the Honor Court hearing.
“The University takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception,” Thorp wrote in an email to the University community Tuesday.
Turner said in his letter that Gambill filed a claim of retaliation with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Monday, citing that UNC punished her for speaking out about how UNC handled her sexual assault trial, which was heard in the spring of 2012.
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 her ex-boyfriend.
For nearly a month, Gambill has publicly spoken out about alleged retaliation from the University.
Thorp said in Tuesday’s email that he has grappled with the best way to respond to the public claim of retaliation while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of the historically student-led Honor Court.
“Recognizing the potential conflicts that may exist by allowing both processes to continue, we have asked the student attorney general to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations or retaliation,” Thorp said in the email.
The Honor Court traditionally has customarily had complete jurisdiction over all matters of student conduct, said Undergraduate Student Attorney General Amanda Claire Grayson in a previous interview.
But the Honor Code also defines the chancellor’s responsibilities, saying the chancellor remains solely responsible for all matters of student discipline, she added.
Thorp also emphasized the University’s long tradition of encouraging students to exercise their right to speak out.
Turner said in his letter to Thorp that UNC had violated Gambill’s First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment protects Ms. Gambill’s right to speak out about her experience as a survivor of sexual violence and about UNC’s shameful handling of her case,” Turner wrote in the letter. “No provision of the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance (‘Honor Code’) gives, or could give, the Honor Court the authority to punish a student for exercising her right to free speech.”
But John Gresham, an attorney with Tin Fulton Walker & Owen who is representing Gambill’s ex-boyfriend, said Monday that Gambill’s defamatory statements about his client are not protected by the First Amendment.
“Your First Amendment rights are protection from governmental interference,” Gresham said. “In dealing with harm to a private individual, you don’t have First Amendment rights.”
Gambill has spoken out for months about her alleged rapist — who she said was a long-term ex-boyfriend. She has said previously it is impossible for him to be defamed because she has never named him.
But Gambill’s ex-boyfriend has said previously that Gambill has disclosed characteristics — such as their relationship history and the proximity of his dorm to hers — that make him easily identifiable.
Thorp did not offer details in his letter about the external review of Gambill’s retaliation claim.
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