An Orleans Parish judge refused Thursday to seal a lawsuit that accuses two Tulane University football players of raping a young woman last year inside a dorm room, agreeing with a lawyer for The Times-Picayune that the proceedings should remain open to the public.
But Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase also signaled that she would shield certain witnesses’ names and other details as the case moves forward, acknowledging the sensitivity surrounding sexual assault allegations that led to the arrest — but not the prosecution — of a well-known Green Wave wide receiver.
The judge said she would consider sealing filings on a case-by-case basis and would scan pleadings for information that should be redacted or kept out of the case file altogether.
“Let me be clear that I am not closing the courtroom,” Chase said during a hearing Thursday. “But I do not want to blanketly say you can’t file anything under seal.”
The ruling marked at least a partial victory for The Times-Picayune, which intervened in the case after attorneys for the university and the young woman filed a joint motion requesting the judge to “keep all pleadings, exhibits, affidavits and transcripts of these proceedings under seal.”
The newspaper said the public has the right to follow a case featuring serious allegations involving a prestigious university, particularly at a time when the response to sexual assault on campuses nationwide has generated widespread calls for reform.
The lawsuit claims that the young woman, who was a high school senior at the time, was raped in April 2014 by football players Niguel “Teddy” Veal and Raul “Junior” Diaz.
She had been drinking heavily that night during a recruiting event for the Tulane women’s basketball team, raising questions about her supervision on campus and whether any coaches or Tulane officials knew that student athletes were buying alcohol for underage recruits.
An investigation by the university cleared Veal of wrongdoing, but one of the school’s attorneys revealed in court Thursday that the young woman, who withdrew her commitment to attend the university, had refused to participate in the probe.
“This is an important issue,” said Lori Mince, an attorney for The Times-Picayune. “What the public wants to know is: Are the allegations made by Jane Doe true, and if so, should Tulane be held accountable?”
The New Orleans Advocate has not identified the young woman, who filed the lawsuit pseudonymously in an effort to protect her privacy.
Investigative police reports show the woman told New Orleans police that she had consensual sex with Diaz, Veal’s roommate, but that she awakened later in the night to find Veal raping her. The lawsuit, however, claims she had been too drunk to consent to any sexual activity that night and that she had rejected some of Diaz’s “repeated attempts to have sex” with her.
Both football players denied the woman’s allegations and have filed countersuits alleging defamation. Detectives booked Veal, a standout wide receiver for the Green Wave, on a rape count last year, but District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro refused to bring criminal charges shortly before the start of the football season.
Tulane led the push to move the civil case out of public view, arguing that sealing the litigation would allow all parties, in the words of attorney Debra Fischman, “to really dig deep and discover the truth” and to ask the young woman “some very pointed and uncomfortable questions.” The university’s investigation essentially determined that the woman falsely accused Veal.
“We don’t want to have to prepare this case with one hand tied behind our backs,” Fischman told Chase, the judge.
Fischman also noted that the case could delve into the behavior of “18-year-old kids” who were present when the young woman went drinking in the French Quarter with members of Tulane’s women’s basketball team, in addition to “personal, private, intimate details with respect to Mr. Veal.”
“We’re talking about 18-year-olds,” she added. “We’re not talking about 30-year-olds and adults.”
Mintz, in her rebuttal, said she had a “hard time” with that argument.
“Going to the French Quarter and getting drunk as a college kid is not a private activity,” she said.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.