A lawsuit that alleges two Green Wave football players raped a young woman inside a Tulane University dorm room last year may be litigated behind closed doors.
Attorneys for the university and the woman, citing the sensitivity of the proceedings, have agreed that all future filings in the case should be made under seal. Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase has scheduled a hearing on the matter next week.
With few exceptions, court proceedings generally are considered a matter of public record. But attorneys in the Tulane case have expressed concern about revealing the names of several students as well as of the woman, who is identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe.
“While it is generally true that court proceedings should be open, there is a balance to be considered over how much personal information should be available in the court record,” said John Denenea Jr., the New Orleans attorney representing the plaintiff. “This is not only important in cases of sexual assault, but the Legislature has enacted laws to protect personal information specifically in sexual assault case filings.”
An attorney representing Tulane declined to comment Monday on the joint motion to seal. A university spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit claims the young woman — a senior in high school at the time — was raped in April 2014 while attending a recruiting event at Tulane for the women’s basketball team. She told authorities she went out drinking with basketball players and at least one other high school recruit.
She became heavily intoxicated — a Green Wave basketball player was charged with purchasing her alcohol — and ended up in the dorm room of football players Raul “Junior” Diaz and Niguel “Teddy” Veal.
The woman told New Orleans police she had consensual sex with Diaz and later awakened to find Veal raping her. The lawsuit, however, says she was too drunk to consent to any sexual activity and that she was raped by both football players.
Attorneys for both players have denied the allegations. Police booked Veal on simple rape, but prosecutors later dropped the case against the standout wide receiver, citing a lack of evidence.
The lawsuit, which names both football players as defendants along with women’s basketball coach Lisa Stockton, accuses Tulane of failing to protect the young woman from sexual assault during the recruiting event.
“It is the responsibility of universities like Tulane to stand in the shoes of the parents to safeguard young high school students when they invite and recruit them onto their campuses,” Denenea said last month. “It is extremely upsetting that my clients entrusted the personal safety of their daughter, a high school student, to Tulane University. That misplaced trust has permanently scarred this young woman and her family.”
The university, pointing to federal privacy laws, has declined to discuss the details of its own investigation of the incident, other than to say it exonerated Veal. But interviews suggest the university would welcome the opportunity to defend the lawsuit outside of the public view, given the nature of the woman’s claims and the expanding national conversation about the frequency of sexual assault on campus and how universities have responded.
School officials are particularly sensitive to the fact that their probe determined no sexual assault occurred, contrary to the woman’s claims. A closed courtroom would allow them to respond more candidly to the woman’s allegations without fear of public-relations implications. Even before next week’s hearing, the university’s lawyers have filed several documents under seal in response to the lawsuit.
“I don’t want to do anything — or be seen in any way — that we are revictimizing or dredging up details about this incident,” Scott Schneider, a former attorney for the university, told The New Orleans Advocate in an interview last year.
The motion before Chase, filed June 4, asks the judge to “henceforth keep all pleadings, exhibits, affidavits and transcripts of these proceedings under seal.”
The hearing is set for 1 p.m. June 23.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.