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Defense rests its case in Rolling Stone trial, closing arguments to follow

Susan Davis called as a witness

<p>Former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo is suing Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc. for defamation as a result of&nbsp;the now-retracted story "A Rape on Campus."</p>

Former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo is suing Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media, Inc. for defamation as a result of the now-retracted story "A Rape on Campus."

The third week of former Associate Dean Nicole Eramo $7.5 million lawsuit began Monday with the defense’s opportunity to submit evidence. The defense called Susan Davis, acting University vice president and chief student affairs officer, to the stand as a witness.

Eramo is suing Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone Magazine and Wenner Media, Inc. for her portrayal in the now-retracted article “A Rape on Campus.”

Davis — who has stepped in for Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Pat Lampkin while she is on sabbatical — has worked for the University since 1999 and has been with the Office of Student Affairs since 2004.

Rolling Stone’s attorneys focused on Davis’ role as the University’s point person for the Office for Civil Rights beginning in the fall of 2011. The OCR began investigating the University’s history of and policies concerning sexual assault on June 30, 2011.

The OCR visited Grounds three times in 2012, but not at all in 2013 or 2014, Eramo’s attorney Andy Phillips said.

“U.Va. heard nothing from OCR regarding policies for some 17 months until the day after the article was published,” Phillips said.

Davis verified she had not heard from the OCR for 17 months until she received an email early in the morning on Nov. 20, 2014 — the day after “A Rape on Campus” was published.

“A Rape on Campus” caused the formerly dormant review of the University’s policies on sexual assault to be jump-started again, Phillips said.

In the email, the OCR requested the University provide further information regarding several reports of alleged sexual violence, including all documentation related to the cases of both Jackie and “Stacy,” an interviewee of the Rolling Stone article.

Following Davis’s testimony, the defense presented the jury with an audio recording of a Sept. 12, 2014, dinner between “A Rape on Campus” author Sabrina Erdely and the article’s central source Jackie, as well as Jackie’s boyfriend Connor and her then-friend Alex Pinkleton, who is also quoted in the article.

In the audio, Jackie and Pinkleton spoke about how their experiences with sexual violence affected them and how they moved forward with dealing with sexual assault.

Eramo’s attorney Libby Locke called Erdely to the stand to review the transcript of the dinner she had with Jackie and to point out warning signs of Jackie’s unreliability as a source.

One of Locke’s major points was Jackie’s consistent referral to Phi Kappa Psi as “Pi Phi,” the nickname of sorority Pi Beta Phi.

“It seems more likely than anything else she’s mixing up the syllables,” Erdely said on the stand. “It’s not that she doesn’t have it straight — it’s all Greek to her.”

Locke also asked Erdely if Jackie’s audible joviality when discussing her planned suicide was a source of concern for her when deciding to use Jackie as her source. Erdely said she believed Jackie was simply putting on a brave face and dealing with her trauma.

Scott Sexton, an attorney representing Rolling Stone, also asked Erdely how she perceived the attitudes Jackie and Pinkleton showed towards sexual assault and trauma.

“They didn’t like to sit around and be sad sacks and feel sorry for themselves,” Erdely said of Jackie and Pinkleton.

Following the lunch break, the judge momentarily dismissed the jury to discuss motions made by both the plaintiffs and the defendants. Eramo’s counsel had moved for the Dec. 5, 2014, republication of the article with an editor’s note to be considered as actual malice, while the defendants moved to deny the motion.

U.S. District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad said the editor’s note issued with the republication discredited Jackie’s story, but not the statements in the article claiming Eramo’s lack of performance as an associate dean of students.

“I do agree the editor’s note repudiates Jackie’s statements, but that’s not the end of the inquiry,” he said.

At the end of the day, Conrad initiated informal meetings with counsel members in the court chambers to discuss motions and to finalize jury instructions. Attorneys from both sides had issued objections to their motions Conrad had dismissed, but Conrad maintained his original ruling.

One of the rulings Conrad upheld was in favor of the defendants’ motion for judgment in the matter of law, meaning “no reasonable juror could find that ‘A Rape on Campus,' read as a whole … reasonably implies that Eramo was a false friend to Jackie who pretended to be on Jackie's side while seeking to suppress sexual assault reporting,” according to Conrad’s memorandum opinion.

“The court believes this is a purposeful avoidance case,” Conrad said.

Court will reconvene with closing arguments Tuesday morning.


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