Jury to begin deliberating in $10M lawsuit against Virginia Wesleyan

WAVY/Walter HIldebrand

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Closing arguments are over in the Virginia Wesleyan College $10 million dollar negligence lawsuit.

A former student, known as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, is suing the school for negligence, blaming them for creating an environment that made it easy for sexual assaults and failing to protect students by having inconsistent and non-existent policies on parties and drinking.

Doe claims she was raped by another student, known in the lawsuit as Robert Roe, after she was slipped a date rape drug at an un-sanctioned party on the campus that was thrown by a college representative, who was a Peer Advisor.

The college defense argues, in part, that they had no knowledge of the rape, they are not responsible and say Doe never reported the rape to them and never called police.

In court on Wednesday, Jane Doe’s attorney, Jonathan Halperin, says top administrators and former administrators at the college were “buck passing, not accepting responsibility and pointing fingers.”

Halperin began closing by reminding the jury what some of the VWC defense witnesses called Jane Doe: “a liar, a faker, a cheat.”

Halperin says VWC had a duty to protect Doe at the party. Doe is suing VWC and VWC is suing Robert Roe responsible if they lose the lawsuit.

Halperin set up two columns dealing with different topics in the case and put them on a screen before the jury to show how Jane Doe and the college responded to each. Below are some of them:

  1. Unauthorized parties with underage drinking: Jane Doe (who was 18-years-old at the time) was slipped a date rape drug. VWC said they had no report of any party. Doe says a security officer came into the party, saw the drinking and then left. The college and the officer say they never went in the party. One court observer, who did not want to be identified, said, “The only one who saw the officer was Jane Doe.”
  1. Consensual sex/poor hiring: Jane Doe claims negligent VWC selection and hiring led to the rape. The party in question was thrown by a Peer Advisor (not Doe’s) who is supposed to be a mentor and is associated with the college. Doe argues he should not have had an un-sanctioned party, where alcohol was served to underage students. He knew it and allowed it to happen.

VWC says it does care about these attacks and points out repeated reminders given to Doe and other freshman to prevent drug facilitated sexual assaults: A study guide handed out, discussed during orientation and a play that tackles the issue of sexual assaults. The school provides big magnets put on refrigerator doors with important numbers and there are meetings with Resident Assistants (RA).

  1. Alcohol policy enforcement: Halperin told the jury it was inconsistently enforced. The college says their policy is sound and individual students have a responsibility to follow common sense.
  1. Sexual Assault Reporting: The trial brought out that VWC only reports sexual assaults at the end of the year. College security is not made aware of the sexual assaults. Halperin noted how archaic the policy is and says it basically puts blinders on the college so you can’t see trends, if there are any. VWC argues that at a small school, it’s important to keep the “who” confidential. Halperin argues that information on the what, where, when, why and how should be shared.

Halperin also says the school failed to consistently shut down un-sanctioned parties.

VWC says they do everything they can, and stop un-sanctioned parties when they find them.

Another interesting note came up Wednesday from a VWC expert in Campus Safety and Security, Brett Sokolow.

Sokolow says he is not a consultant for VWC, but is for this court case only. Halperin spent at least an hour grilling Sokolow, who has $650 an hour for a fee. Sokolow has clocked 160 hours in the case, which totals $104,000 plus $30,000 for testifying in the case. He told the jury that after analyzing VWC policy, it appears the school does have ‘a look the other way policy’ with controlled drinking.

“If you are going to drink, drink on campus, drink responsibly, remain unseen, do not vandalize, and we will likely leave you alone,” Sokolow says. “Don’t be the nail that sticks up and gets hammered.”

Sokolow says schools that try to crack down on drinking usually has an adverse affect.

At day’s end, VWC’s defense finished their closing arguments, saying the college is not responsible for what happened, had no idea it happened and should not be held responsible.

The jury begins deliberating Thursday. Their options to find for VWC against Jane Doe. At that point the case is over.  They can find for Jane Doe, and then must determine how much she deserves.  The case seeks $10 million dollars.  They then have to find in favor of VWC or Robert Roe.  If they find in favor of VWC then Robert Roe will owe some legal fees.

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