Smith files $1.25 million lawsuit against University

Richard Smith filed a $1.25 million lawsuit against the University Wednesday, claiming his constitutional due process rights were violated during his disciplinary proceedings.

The suit named all Board of Visitors members, President John T. Casteen III, William W. Harmon, vice president for student affairs, and the seven University Judiciary Committee members who tried and expelled Smith Nov. 21. The suit does not seek damages against the students.

Casteen suspended Smith for two years for his involvement in the Nov. 21, 1997 assault on then first-year College student Alexander "Sandy" Kory above the Ruffner Footbridge on Newcomb Road.

Kory has said he sustained a broken jaw and incurred $3,000 in medical expenses as a result of the attack.

University Relations Director Louise Dudley said the University received copies of the lawsuit late Thursday.

"The lawsuit will be rigorously defended, as the University took action that it believed to be proper and fair," Dudley said.

In the lawsuit, Smith claims that Kory "set out to use the University of Virginia disciplinary proceedings to develop the threat of a civil case against Mr. Smith. Mr. Kory received more help than he possibly could have hoped for from Defendants, who condemned Mr. Smith without even offering him the chance to be heard."

But Kory denied those claims.

"I obviously disagree with all that," he said. "I strongly disagree with those claims."

He added that he has spoken with his lawyers and has not decided if he will file a civil suit against Smith.

Smith was not present at his November student disciplinary hearing. He has said that Harmon told him the hearing would be postponed.

The all-student trial panel voted to expel Smith, Harrison Kerr Tigrett and Bradley Kintz, now all rising fourth-year College students.

Smith, Kintz and Tigrett appealed the UJC's decision and were granted a new trial by the Judicial Review Board. The JRB, which is composed of faculty members, students and administrators, sent the case back to the UJC for retrial.

But the UJC retrial, scheduled for April 17, did not take place as the trial chairwoman stepped down from the case and the three student prosecutors resigned in fear of being sued.

The UJC then sent the case to Harmon for adjudication. A Harmon-appointed fact-finding panel convened May 17 and listened to testimony from both sides before sending its sanction recommendations to Casteen.

The panel recommended that Smith be suspended for two semesters, with the summer session counting as one semester, and that Tigrett and Kintz each be suspended for one semester.

Casteen then upped the sanctions of both Smith and Tigrett, deciding to suspend Smith for two years and Tigrett for one. He adopted the panel's sanction recommendation for Kintz.

Harmon declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday because he said he did not have any information on the legal action itself.

Among several points, the lawsuit argues that Casteen violated Smith's due process rights.

"Without providing Mr. Smith with notice or an opportunity to he heard, Defendant John Casteen, President of the University, rejected the findings of the panel that had heard the evidence and made his own findings ... Defendant Casteen, the true decision-maker, gave Mr. Smith no hearing at all; he merely rendered an edict--and rendered it arbitrarily, capriciously, and without due process of law," the lawsuit states.

Casteen said Friday that he does not comment on current litigation.

While the lawsuit does not seek monetary compensation from any students, it does name seven in the suit.

"Frankly, it's scary," said Jonathan Carr, College UJC representative and rising fourth-year College student. "You never expect that you could be sued for just doing your job."

The student judges "were just doing a job they were elected to do," Carr said.

He said he "hopes the University does everything they can to make sure these students are protected."

But rising fourth-year College student Liz Summers, one of the student prosecutors who resigned from the case in April, said she was "absolutely" worried about being represented by the University in the event of a lawsuit.

Summers said a lawsuit seemed inevitable when she was working on the case.

"Basically, we knew that night [of the pre-trial hearing] they were building a lawsuit," she said. "I'm not surprised at all."

She added that the defense counsel utilized a "bully tactic" throughout the proceedings.

Rising third-year Law student Sam Waxman said lawsuits provide a chilling effect on the University's student-run systems.

"We live in a litigious society," Waxman said. "What it comes down to is the University's response. The University needs to let the students know that it will protect them, not just the system."

He said students involved in the UJC should have no doubt that the University will support and defend them in the event of a lawsuit.

"In my opinion, those doubts are more damaging than any lawsuit," he added. "All you need is $100 and a two-bit lawyer to file a lawsuit. That's the beauty of America."

Waxman said the University's settlement in the Chris Leggett Honor lawsuit five years ago has resulted in an "open hunting season on both student-run systems--the Honor Committee and the Judiciary Committee."

Leggett sued the University after being dismissed on Honor charges. After filing suit, he was granted a new trial and was exonerated.

Smith has retained counsel of the same firm hired by Leggett--the Washington, D.C. firm of Williams & Connolly.

As of Friday afternoon, Board Rector John P. Ackerly III and Richard Smith could not be reached for comment and UJC Chairman Brian Hudak declined to comment.

The Cavalier Daily will continue to provide up-to-date information on the Smith lawsuit, as well as reaction from the University community, as it becomes available.


Published August 27, 1999 in News





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