Jury sides with Virginia Wesleyan College in $10M lawsuit case

WAVY/Walter HIldebrand

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — After a seven-day trial and more than three hours of deliberation, a Norfolk jury returned a verdict in favor of Virginia Wesleyan College in the $10 million negligence lawsuit filed against them by Jane Doe.

The jury was unanimous in its decision in court on Thursday.

Jane Doe, a former student, sued the school for negligence. She claimed that she was raped by another student, known in the lawsuit as Robert Roe, in August of 2012.

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

As a result of Thursday’s verdict, Robert Roe’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, says Roe will not owe any legal fees to Virginia Wesleyan.

Voyles released a statement after the verdict was returned, which reads in full:

The jury found what had been the case all along – this was a false accusation against my client. Jane Doe’s accusation was based solely on her word. There was zero physical, medical, or objective evidence of any sexual assault. And once the trial started and Jane Doe testified, I believe the jury realized that they could not trust her word because of the many shifting, inconsistent, and contradictory stories that Jane Doe at trial, including actually testifying differently at trial than what she had testified to under oath at her deposition last October. My client thanks the jury for restoring his name.”

Jane Doe’s attorney, Jonathan Halperin, says he plans to appeal to the Virginia State Supreme Court.

“We respectfully disagree with a lot of evidence excluded from this trial that would have borne on matters of issues that the jury never got to hear.”

Halperin says the biggest piece of evidence omitted was that Robert Roe had been expelled from the school for sexual assault and had apologized to Jane Doe.

After the events of August 24, 2012, Roe apologized. As part of 10 On Your Side’s investigation, we uncovered a transcript from the Community Arbitration Board, where Robert Roe offered to pay Doe’s medical expenses.

The transcript reads: “I hope you can believe me when I say I never had any intention of hurting you, making you feel uncomfortable, or taking advantage of you.”

Halperin says he believes pressure on the school by Roe’s father, who is a well known attorney out of state, got Virginia Wesleyan to change his son’s departure status from “expelled” to “withdraw.”

In a letter from then Dean of Enrollment Services David Buckingham, Doe was informed that the college had changed the official reason for Roe leaving the school so he could move on with his studies.

Jane Doe was so offended by the letter that she decided to sue Virginia Wesleyan. Halperin says that letter led to the lawsuit.

“The school changed his position from dismissed to withdraw, and this is something that exasperated Ms. Doe’s PTSD very badly.”

“From day one these accusations were false, and they were based only on the plaintiff’s word that there was no physical evidence, no medical evidence, no objective evidence at all,” Voyles said outside of court.

Doe did not report the rape to police, which proved to be an obstacle that Roe’s attorney says was tough for her to explain.

“So once they heard that, and they hear the changing stories from the plaintiff during trial, when her story actually changed during trial, that’s when the jury heard there was nothing to these accusations,” Voyles said.

Halperin counters: “In our view, the inconsistent statements were not the key to the verdict.”

Voyles says Jane Doe’s inconsistent statements helped his case against her.

“The hardest hitting inconsistencies were the Facebook messages from three days later.”

Voyles insists the line of questioning on how she responded to Facebook conversations after the rape was powerful for the jury.

On August 28, 2012, a friend asked Jane Doe: “Why are you so upset?” Doe replied: “I was so upset because he was ugly,” referring to Robert Roe.

Voyles says, “I think an all-female jury didn’t appreciate her making a joke of him, and being accused of rape, and being sued, I don’t think the jury thought that was funny.”

The messages went on.

Friend: “How’s school?”

Jane Doe: “I’m enjoying it. This past weekend was weird.”

Friend: “Why was it weird?”

Doe: “Probably too much to drink, and waking up not knowing where I am. Now I know what not to do.”

Voyles states, “The plaintiff is joking about waking up, saying she’s blacked out drunk, and doesn’t remember a thing. That is wildly inconsistent with the story she gave at trial.”

Halperin says Doe was in denial and that’s what came across in those messages.

“It’s called denial… That is what she did. She was in denial for about a year after this. She tried to repress everything about it, but she was unable to, and her life fell apart.”

Virginia Wesleyan College sent 10 On Your Side a statement, which reads:

A seven woman Norfolk jury today unanimously returned a verdict for Virginia Wesleyan College in the Jane Doe trial. In so doing, the jury dismissed the plaintiff’s claims and the plaintiff’s request for $10 million.

The jury correctly rejected Ms. Doe’s claim that Virginia Wesleyan College failed to take reasonable and adequate steps for the safety of its students. The College is pleased with the jury’s affirmation of its efforts to provide a safe and secure learning environment for all of its students.”

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