December 23, 2011

A Black Eye for Brown In a Controversial Rape Case

I've written before of the peculiar case of Brown and Marcella Dresdale. In 2006, Dresdale accused another Brown freshman, William McCormick, of sexual assault. But she didn't go the local police, and she never filed charges. Instead, she went to the Brown administration--over which, it turned out, her father Richard, a major Brown donor, exercised considerable influence. After a prosecution-friendly process in which McCormick's only advocate was an assistant wrestling coach, McCormick accepted what amounted to a plea bargain, and agreed to leave Brown. The university never formally investigated Dresdale's charges.

There matters might have ended, but McCormick and his family decided to file a federal suit against both Dresdales and Brown. Their basic claim: that Brown had railroaded McCormick to accommodate the demands not of justice but of a major donor.

The case meandered its way through various courts and judges until this summer, but recently a district court had upheld McCormick's discovery demands--related to what sort of communication between the Dresdales and Brown administrators about the case. It seems that the Dresdales really didn't want McCormick and his attorneys to get access to this material. On Wednesday, the Dresdales and the McCormicks announced that they had reached an out-of-court settlement.

As is customary in such matters, terms weren't released, though the fact that the development came so close on the heels of the discovery order gives a good sense of which side prevailed. The settlement also, ironically, proved the McCormicks' claims that Brown effectively acted not as an institution of higher learning but as an agent of the Dresdales. The settlement's terms preclude the McCormicks not only from suing the Dresdales but also from suing Brown--even though Brown wasn't officially a party to the settlement negotiations. It appears that Richard Dresdale was willing to offer more money to shield the school from the sunlight of discovery. Brown's spokesperson, however, issued an Orwellian statement about how, regardless of the apparent cover-up and Brown's fierce attempts to prevent the McCormicks from getting access to data about the school's decisionmaking process, "the university stood ready at all times during this litigation to prove in court that it had acted appropriately and in accordance with applicable laws, policies and procedures."

A final point, on coverage of the case. Kudos to Bloomberg News, whose article on the settlement references the Dresdales by name. Contrast that approach with the Laura Crimaldi of the Associated Press, whose article never uses the Dresdales' name and instead explains that a settlement was reached between McCormick, his family, and "his accuser and her father." (This shielding policy even prevents the AP from referencing the name of the case, McCormick v. Dresdale.) Again: Marcella Dresdale never filed charges. She appears never to have gone to a hospital for a rape examination. Her father paid out an undisclosed sum of money to prevent documents regarding Brown's handling of the case from coming to light. And yet the AP believes that she's still entitled to the cloak of anonymity?

Comments (4)

Mke Dasdy:

The tragedy here is that the McCormicks accepted the money. The victim (William McCormick) had a college degree and could have, and should have, stood for all other victims. Marcella Dresdale learned that daddy's money will get her out of anything. Brown University has bashed male students, and given their statement, will continue to do so.
A good laundering in the public press would have gotten William more, and left a precedent and a legacy for all the other young men on every campus who are now automatically guilty of everything and anything they are accused of doing.

A complete sham... and Brown got off easy because Daddy Warbucks paid the young man.

It is the sort of thing that diminishes the shame and heinous nature of actual rape.


Hal Morris, JD, PhD:

This settlement came over five years after the controversy arose in September 2006. The suit brought by the young victim--McCormick--was stalled at every possible turn. For you lawyers out there just think: They were still battling over the scope of Discovery! This was not complex litigation! All discovery should have been completed in a few months. This is what power lawyers (for the Dresdales, and Brown University) do to the little guy who sues. They know you can't keep it up as long as they can. Some of you are assuming McCormick won a lot of money. I doubt he got a cent; at best some portion of his family's huge attorney bill might have been paid. Nor did he get his name cleared, which no doubt was his most important objective. The young woman has graduated and taken up a career in the financial services industry. She never had to appear in court or suffer any hardship at all. Yet they refer to this as a "Justice System." Brown University has certainly never apologized for its handling of the McCormick case. And recently heartily welcomed the new U.S. Department of Education requirements for adjudicating student rape cases on the weak preponderance of evidence standard of proof (with no cross-examination of the female accuser permitted). There will be McCormick victims to come; and some of the will wish they COULD just get a plane ticket home and the cover story of having withdrawn from school for medical reasons.... (which is what had been offered McCormick, under conditions of great duress).


I'm a student at Brown University and I spend the better part of a semester uncovering this story. I've documented every piece of evidence and I have numerous recordings of interviews. If you want to understand the real story, this is the most comprehensive coverage there is.

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