‘I’m a very small firm and they’re saying it’s me that caused this? That’s laughable’
The University of Michigan wants you to know that its insurance company is paying the millions it has spent on lawyers in just two Title IX lawsuits by accused students. Does that make you Michigan taxpayers and students feel any better?
The Michigan Daily breaks down the legal fees incurred by the public university in Doe v. Baum and Doe v. University of Michigan, which both concern UMich’s deprivation of cross-examination to students accused of sexual misconduct.
The first is the lion’s share of the money, at $1.6 million. Baum produced a major precedent in favor of cross-examination at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a year ago. UMich has incurred $650,000 in lawyer billing for the second case, which is less than a year and a half old.
A spokesperson for the university told the newspaper that neither taxpayers nor students are paying for its legal bills, but rather its insurer Veritas. It owns the insurance company.
The Baum lawsuit goes back three years, “resulting in a record that exceeds 5,000 pages,” the spokesperson said. The university has been through five hearings and four status conferences at the trial court, not to mention “full briefing and oral arguments” at the 6th Circuit, he added, explaining why the litigation has cost so much more than the $350,000 average determined by a 2017 report on sexual misconduct lawsuits against colleges.
Deborah Gordon, who is representing the plaintiff in Baum, mocked the university for its justification of how much it has spent on lawyers in a case that hasn’t even reached legal discovery:
“I’m a four-person law firm, I do contingency fee work mostly,” Gordon told The Daily. “At one point they had 12 different attorneys working for them from three different law firms, two of them out-of-state … I’m a very small firm and they’re saying it’s me that caused this? That’s laughable.”
Gordon is also representing the plaintiff in the second case. UMich is trying to have it dismissed as moot because its new sexual misconduct policy responds to the requirements laid out by the 6th Circuit. (The $650,000 figure came out this summer because of a public records request. Gordon said she requested about a sixth of that.)
But the case is not moot because UMich has not provided the relief sought by her client, “which includes clearing his permanent record,” Gordon told the Daily:
Ultimately, she said she wants the District Court to issue an order requiring the University to have a live hearing and cross-examination to further ensure the University will maintain these due process procedures. Gordon explained the ruling in Doe v. Baum is a court opinion, which only allows the University to be sued. If there were a court order and the University changed its policy, it would be in contempt of court, which imposes further punishment.
“It’s like a University rule you could think of it … Unless there’s somebody that sends you disciplinary action, the rule doesn’t really mean as much,” Gordon said. “You just know you’re not supposed to violate it, until you get a directive saying if you do violate it you’re out.”
Both UMich accuser advocate Emma Sandberg and Gordon say the university should pay lawyers to represent the parties in sexual misconduct disputes:
Gordon noted she would be willing to represent these cases pro-bono for both sides and conjectured many other lawyers would feel the same. She accused the University of intentionally preventing third-party representatives to provide justification for fighting the Doe v. Baum ruling.
“I personally think they’re doing that on purpose to make this more traumatizing so they can say they were right all along,” Gordon said.
UMich barred students from even paying for their own lawyers when it released a revised policy following the 6th Circuit ruling, requiring the students themselves to cross-examine each other.
The university insisted this would protect “equity” in the sense that it prevents a student who can afford a lawyer from gaining an advantage over a student who can’t afford one.
Both advocates of due process and advocates for accusers have criticized that reasoning. Sandberg, a student who founded the nonprofit Roe v. Rape, believes that the university chose this format of cross-examination to discourage accusers from reporting sexual misconduct.
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