St. Paul’s School: Sexual assault victim’s attorneys should stop commenting publicly

A sign marks the entrance to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, in this file photo taken August 20, 2015.  Owen Labrie, 19,  a former student at St Paul's, was found not guilty on Friday of raping a 15-year-old girl days before graduation last year in a case that has shone a harsh spotlight on the school's culture.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files
A sign marks the entrance to St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. –Brian Snyder / Reuters

St. Paul’s School asked that a sexual assault victim’s attorneys stop commenting publicly on their lawsuit against the elite prep school, charging them with using a “cloak of anonymity” to launch unfair attacks, according to a filing in federal court.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire, the school’s attorneys argue that the victim, identified as “J.D.,” and her parents were hypocritically using court-sanctioned anonymity while conducting a national media campaign against the school.

“The School recognizes J.D. has an interest in protecting her identity,” the school wrote. “However, Plaintiffs’ desire to minimize personal exposure associated with the lawsuit is substantially undermined by the tactics of commencing a national media campaign to prejudice the School and this proceeding while simultaneously seeking court-sanctioned anonymity.”

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St. Paul’s School attorneys also argued that the name of a sexual assault victim suing the school should be used in third-party fact-finding and in court. The victim’s name would then be redacted in documents, the school’s attorneys argued.

The lawsuit concerns the same victim as in the high-profile sexual assault case against Owen Labrie, a St. Paul’s School senior who was accused of sexual assault of a then-15-year-old freshman. Labrie was convicted of three misdemeanor sexual assault charges and felony use of a computer to solicit, but he was found not guilty of more serious felony sexual assault charges.

The parents of the victim filed suit against St. Paul’s School in June, saying that the elite prep school condoned the “Senior Salute,” a sexual competition that the plaintiffs called “ritualized statutory rape.”

St. Paul’s School, citing the mixed verdict of Labrie’s criminal trial, denied that they were responsible and said the “Senior Salute” referred to a wide variety of acts.

Attorneys for the Concord prep school were particularly critical of public statements made by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the Silverman Law Firm. The school’s attorneys cited a 2014 sexual assault case in which a federal judge admonished the same law firm for making public statements on behalf of the victim.

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“To be clear, the School understands that J.D. has a significant desire in maintaining anonymity at this time,” the school wrote. “However, there can be no fundamental fairness in a proceeding in which Plaintiffs receive court-sanctioned anonymity while simultaneously publicly attacking the credibility and character of the School and its officials.”

Rosanna Cavallaro, a criminal law professor at Suffolk University Law School, said that although the plaintiff’s name is generally public information, the victim’s status as a minor and victim of sexual assault is a compelling reason for privacy.

“It is unusual that a person bringing a lawsuit would not have their name on a pleading because they’re the ones bringing the lawsuit,” she said. “But there are special circumstances here.”

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