A new trial date was set last week in University Assoc. Dean Nicole Eramo’s defamation suit against Rolling Stone magazine, Sabrina Erdely and Wenner Media.
Eramo is seeking over $7.5 million in compensatory damages for her portrayal as an alleged villain in the widely-publicized and since retracted article “A Rape on Campus.”
In response to a joint motion filed by both Eramo and the defense, Judge Glen E. Conrad rescheduled the start of the two-week trial from July 18 to Oct. 11.
The joint statement said the lengthy discovery process merits a new start date so both sides can more adequately prepare for the trial.
“Due to its scope, and the complexities presented by third-party discovery in this case, discovery has taken longer than initially anticipated,” the joint motion said.
The judge also ordered that “Jackie,” whose account of an alleged rape was featured in the Rolling Stone article, be deposed April 5.
Jackie is not a party to the lawsuit but has previously been ordered to turn over communications believed to be relevant to the suit.
Court documents said the case requires significant third-party discovery, which is grounds for a trial reset date.
“Given the claims and defenses at issue, significant third-party discovery has been necessary, including the discovery of education records under [the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA] and document and deposition discovery from third-party sources that have (and will be) the subject of motions practice,” the joint motion for a trial reset said. FERPA is a federal law pertaining to the release of and access to an individual’s educational records.
Part of the discovery process will include Jackie’s “one-day, seven-hour deposition.”
Law Prof. G. Edward White said delays in the case are normal in these proceedings, and they won’t affect the length of the trial itself or how much publicity the trial might have once it starts.
“The lawyers are just trying to give themselves as much time possible to make defenses, find witnesses and so on,” White said.
White said the trial will be affected by whether Eramo is treated as a public figure or a private citizen.
“If the plaintiff is treated as a public figure, then it’s difficult to win because under the constitutional rules at present you have to show that the statement was not only false, it was made with clear and convincing evidence of actual malice, which means that it was either deliberately false or recklessly false,” White said.
White said this is a “hard burden to meet.”
Meanwhile, if Eramo is declared a private citizen defamed on a matter of public concern — in this case, sexual assault on college campuses — all she has to do is prove negligence on the part of Rolling Stone and Erdely, White said.
White said the court will rule whether Eramo will be treated as a public figure or private citizen after both sides have presented opening arguments, and then the case will be turned over to the jury.
“When you’re an employee of a state university that occupies a relatively visible position you may be a public official for defamation purposes, and if you’re a public official then you’re a public figure,” White said. “It’s not at all clear what kind of plaintiff she’s going to be, so it’s not clear what she’s going to have to do to win the suit.”