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Agreement between students disputed

Female student’s lawyer says rape claim is true

A lawyer for William McCormick III — a former member of the class of 2010 who is suing the University,  over a dozen employees, a female student and her father — said in federal court last week that a statement made by the lawyer for the female student and her father during that same hearing was the first assertion so far in the case that the female student's rape accusation — the veracity of which has significant ramifications for the outcome of the litigation — was not false.

"This statement to that effect in the courtroom on Monday and its appearance in newspaper articles on this case is a complete surprise," J. Scott Kilpatrick, McCormick's lawyer, told The Herald. "In the seven months this case has been pending, neither he nor anyone else on behalf of the (female student and her father) have disputed that the claims made three years ago were false."

Joseph Cavanagh, the lawyer for the female student and her father, did not return requests for comment, and neither the student nor her father could be reached for comment Monday. The Herald is withholding her name because she may have been the victim of a sex crime.

The hearing took place April 12 in front of Judge William Smith in Rhode Island District Federal Court. During the hearing, Smith unsealed the case, the existence of which was previously unacknowledged in any publicly available document.

McCormick and his parents filed the claim following a September 2006 incident in which he was accused of raping the female student. The complaint states that McCormick was detained unlawfully and then sent home, and that this series of events has aggravated McCormick's preexisting seizure condition. He and his parents are seeking unspecified damages from the defendants.

The complaint accuses the University, President Ruth Simmons, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98, Senior Vice President for Corporation Affairs and Governance Russell Carey '91 MA'06 and 12 other University employees of breach of contract, false imprisonment and libel, among other counts of civil misconduct.

The complaint also alleges that the University was guided by "financial self-interest" when handling the incident because the female student's father, an alum, has donated to, and raised large sums of money for Brown.

The truth of the rape accusation is a matter of contention with implications for the validity of a 2006 agreement between McCormick and the female student. In a motion to dismiss the claims against the female student and her father, Cavanagh cited the agreement, which stipulates "McCormick hereby releases and forever discharges (the female student) from any and all claims, demands, damages, remedies, contracts — express or implied — and causes of action of any kind or nature whatsoever."

According to Cavanagh's motion, this release nullifies any claim by McCormick against the female student.

In the release, the female student also agreed not to press charges of any kind against McCormick.

Kilpatrick conceded at the hearing that "if the release is valid as a matter of law, the McCormicks do not have cause of action against" the female student and her father.
But he said legal precedent shows that, in effect, "there is no contract" if one party is agreeing "to not bring false criminal allegations" against another. According to Kilpatrick's argument, if the female student's 2006 allegation of rape against McCormick was made falsely, the agreement is not valid and cannot prevent McCormick from bringing a lawsuit against the female student.

Kilpatrick also contended that the agreement was made "under duress" because Cavanagh threatened McCormick with criminal rape charges if he did not sign it. In an October 2006 e-mail to Walter Stone — McCormick's attorney at the time — Cavanagh expressed displeasure at McCormick's unwillingness to accede to the agreement, calling his reluctance "a mistake" and writing, "As you well know, the Brown disciplinary matter is the least of (McCormick's) possible perils."

McCormick's complaint calls the e-mail "a thinly veiled threat of criminal rape charges," but Cavanagh has denied that characterization in court documents.

"I'm not sure I see the same threat you contend," Smith told Kilpatrick at last week's hearing, but said a jury may have to determine whether the e-mail constitutes a threat of criminal charges.

Originally, McCormick's complaint claimed the e-mail constituted "extortion" by Cavanagh on behalf of the female student and her father, but it has since been changed to the claim of "duress."

The disputed agreement also mandated that McCormick withdraw from Brown and not enter Providence until the female student's graduation, among other stipulations. McCormick declined to comment in an e-mail to The Herald.

The parties are currently awaiting Smith's ruling on defendants' motions to dismiss before the case proceeds.


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