Federal Judge Unseals UM Rape Discipline Case

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A federal judge has unsealed court documents against the wishes of the University of Montana that show university officials voted to expel a student accused of rape after he unsuccessfully requested that the judge intervene in his disciplinary proceedings.

The case against the unnamed student is one of 11 that have surfaced amid reports that rape allegations involving university students were going unreported or not being followed through. The university’s response to the allegations, some of which involve football players, is the subject two federal investigations and a probe by the NCAA.

Both the university and student requested that U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen keep the case sealed from the public. But Christensen wrote in his order Tuesday that neither could justify keeping it secret.

“The University of Montana is a public institution, and while there may be good reasons to keep secret the names of students involved in a University disciplinary proceeding, the Court can conceive of no compelling justification to keep secret the manner in which the University deals with those students,” Christensen wrote.

The student, who is called John Doe in the documents, was accused of raping a female student at her off-campus home earlier this year after she invited him over to watch a movie. He said it was consensual sex. The university accused him of violating its student conduct code.

The student asked Christensen to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the university from proceeding with the case against him. He claimed school officials were biased against him and had imposed a lower standard of proof than is required under the conduct code.

The student said that university officials threatened to expel him if he discussed the case with anyone, forbade his attorney from interviewing the victim and refused to provide copies of documents. The student made other allegations against school officials, some of which were blacked out of court documents.

Christensen denied the request on May 10, citing the high bar in issuing a temporary restraining order. However, Christensen criticized the school’s handling of the case, saying it “offends the court’s sense of fundamental fairness and appears to fall short of the minimal moral obligation of any tribunal to respect the rights and dignity of the accused.”

The judge also said the ruling does not prevent anybody from filing a lawsuit against the university.

Kevin McRae, an associate commissioner of higher education speaking for the university, told the Missoulian newspaper that the university cannot speak on the status of the appeal or on any student conduct issues.

As for Christensen’s comments on how the university handled the student’s case, McRae said the judge heard only one side of the story and the school had not been asked to defend its handling of the case at that point.

After the judge declined to intervene, the university court voted to expel the student after finding that he violated the conduct code. The student is appealing the expulsion, the Missoulian reported.

After the university’s decision, Christensen dismissed the student’s complaint because the court no longer had jurisdiction over the matter, but both sides requested the case be kept under seal after the dismissal. Christensen denied that request in Tuesday’s decision.

David Paoli, the attorney for the student, had argued that sexual assault allegations at the university were receiving national attention and the people involved in this case would be at risk of “suffering significant annoyance and embarrassment.”