Trials & Litigation

Judge complains court filings are being used to deliver information to news media

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A federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Baylor University warned lawyers for the sexual assault plaintiffs Tuesday that court filings should not be used to deliver information to the news media.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin, Texas, delivered the warning in an order considering discovery issues, the Texas Lawyer reports. The suit was filed by 15 plaintiffs who alleged that Baylor mishandled their sexual assault claims.

Pitman said it is critical that depositions in a sexual assault suit be “conducted with decency.” If there are issues with discovery, he said, he would entertain requests for relief.

“However, the court will not permit the parties to use court filings to deliver material to the news media that is irrelevant to the immediate issue before the court,” he said.

Pitman said in the future if either party files briefs that aren’t directly relevant to the requested relief, “the court will take appropriate measures.”

Pitman’s warning criticized a court document filed by lawyers for Brazil & Dunn in Houston and Dunnam & Dunnam in Waco. Pitman referred to pages 9 through 11 of the document, in which the lawyers said Baylor’s motion to compel discovery should be evaluated in light of Baylor’s deposition conduct.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote that long depositions were to be expected. “What is unexpected,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote, “is the level of abuse being hurled upon them, as Baylor attempts to brand a scarlet letter on someone unfortunate enough to be raped.”

“Time is spent delving into lists a Jane Doe exchanged with girlfriends about boys they found cute or dated or kissed since high school. A psychological assessment performed prior to a Jane Doe donating a kidney to a stranger is fruit for discussion. Deposition questions probe every college/high school email, text and personal Facebook messages that Baylor deems as prurient, devoting hours of depositions over issues that have nothing to do with the resolution of this case, but instead belittle, harass and further traumatize.”

Baylor had responded that it conducts depositions with respect, but it has a responsibility to learn about the allegations.

The Texas Lawyer reached Dunnam & Dunnam name partner Jim Dunnam for comment. He said he didn’t send the court filing to news media to write an article. “We don’t want to try this case in the newspaper,” Dunnam said. “We want it to go to a jury.”

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