'Blatant violation of ethics': UNC Honor Court criticized for Maya Little trial
UNC’s Honor System faced backlash over claims that it let a biased judge help decide the verdict of a Silent Sam activist, Maya Little, charged with damaging the Confederate monument.
T. Greg Doucette, former president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, said he thinks the situation reflects negatively on the entire concept of student self-governance.
“It eats away at that perception that students can handle themselves,” Doucette said. “It made it sound instead like it was a kangaroo court.”
Law student Frank Pray served as a panel member on the Graduate and Professional School Honor Court’s public trial of Maya Little on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26.
Little, a doctoral student in the department of history, spread a mix of red paint and her own blood on the Confederate statue in April in what she called an effort to contextualize a monument to white supremacy.
Pray’s qualification as an impartial judge came into question when, mid-trial, activists discovered he had been a long-time public supporter of the statue and critic of its protesters.
Pray did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
At a 2015 Board of Trustees meeting, Pray, a former chairperson of the UNC College Republicans, told the Trustees that changing the Silent Sam monument in any substantial way would insult the memory of Confederate soldiers.
"It is our belief that the Silent Sam Memorial is a memorial to the brave North Carolinians who were defending their home state at the advance of the Union Army who was literally raping and pillaging their way through North Carolina on their march to the sea," Pray said in the meeting.
Pray also had directly confronted activists who oppose the statue in past social media posts, including one of the witnesses for Little’s defense, geography professor Altha Cravey.
In response to a 2015 tweet where Cravey expressed support for protesters of the statue, Pray wrote, “Do you teach all of your students how to remain petulant children throughout their lives? You’re a disgrace.”
Cravey said she recognized Pray when the trial first began.
“I think as more faculty find out, there will be a real reluctance to use the Honor Court in the future,” Cravey said. “Not because of Frank Pray wanting to be there, but because of others allowing him to be there.”
Amelia Ahern, the panel’s presiding officer, announced on the second day of the trial that Pray would remain a panel member.
Little and her supporters walked out of the hearing. The panel sanctioned Little with a letter of warning and 18 hours of community service to be completed within three months. Earlier, an Orange County District judge found Little guilty of a misdemeanor for the same incident, but declined to hand down any sentence or punishment.
“The Honor Court bases all decisions and sanctions solely on the information heard during the course of the hearing and by the relevant factors outlined in the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance,” Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel.
Little said she plans to appeal the decision.
"To me, it's quite embarrassing that the University would legitimize someone who has an ahistorical, non-academic view of history, and one in fact that is incredibly racist and white supremacist," Little said.
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Sauls stated that panel members, who are selected randomly among a pool of Honor Court members for each hearing, learn the details of a case at least five days before the actual hearing. During that time, the presiding officer decides if each panel member is qualified to proceed in a fair and impartial manner.
Ahern did not respond to multiple requests for comment by the time of publication.
Citing federal privacy laws, Sauls said the University cannot comment on the specifics of any Honor Court case. Graduate and Professional School Honor Court Chairperson Kisha Patel said no members of Honor Court could comment.
The UNC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild crafted a statement condemning the “farcical trial and blatant violation of ethics” displayed by the Honor Court in Little’s trial. As of Oct. 28, over 60 law students, alumni and community members had signed on to the statement.
The UNC Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild has issued a statement regarding the UNC Honor Court trial of Maya Little
Jaelyn Miller, president of the chapter, said Pray’s “extreme views” had been well-known among students for years, but that the statement was not a result of anger toward those views.
“We are a law school, so we’re very accustomed to arguing,” Miller said. “We’re very accustomed to having different views. But the behavior he demonstrated by not recusing himself when it was very clear he had a conflict of interest was just not becoming of a legal professional.”
When Little questioned Pray about recently deactivating his Facebook account and going private on Twitter, he justified it as something many people do in preparation for a professional career.
Doucette, now an attorney in Durham and a Republican, said Pray added him on Facebook in 2016. He said Pray would argue with people about Silent Sam in “hundreds of comments," and equated the hiding of his social media activity to removing evidence.
He also said he thinks that the rest of the panel allowing Pray to stay on the trial means they either agree with him on Silent Sam or just weren’t paying attention.
“Or maybe number three is they sincerely believe that he can be impartial,” Doucette said. “And if that’s the case, I would never want any of these people on a real-life bench.”