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UNC asks honor court to suspend trial against student

CHAPEL HILL UNC-Chapel Hill’s student-run honor court has delayed a trial for Landen Gambill, the student who was charged with intimidating another student after publicly saying she had been raped.

Chancellor Holden Thorp announced Tuesday that he had asked the honor system to suspend its proceeding after a retaliation charge by Gambill against the university. “We decided it was best that the honor court case be put on hold,” he said.

The retaliation claim will be reviewed in light of guidelines related to the federal Title IX gender equity law, Thorp said. “I think it’s something that we’re going to need to get some objective analysis on,” he said.

On Monday, Gambill accused the university of retaliation in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Gambill is one of five women who lodged another federal complaint in January, charging that the university has mishandled sexual assault cases.

Gambill could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but she has said the honor court charge amounts to retaliation because she has been outspoken about her alleged sexual assault. The honor code charge stemmed from a complaint by the fellow student she says raped her.

John Gresham, the attorney for the male student, said there is no factual basis that the university had any part in the filing of the complaint, or that the process was influenced by the university.

“I believe the facts will show there is no basis for this allegation that the university was retaliating against Ms. Gambill,” he said.

The decision to file the intimidation complaint was made by his client because of derogatory comments by Gambill, Gresham said.

In public events, including several rallies on campus, Gambill talked about the university improperly handling her allegations of sexual assault. She did not publicly identify the accused student, who last year was cleared of sexual assault in a campus judicial hearing before a panel of students, faculty and staff. Gambill had chosen to use the university’s process rather than report the alleged sexual assault to police.

Gambill’s attorney, Clay Turner, wrote to Thorp on Monday saying Gambill’s First Amendment free speech rights entitle her to talk about her case.

He said the honor court prosecution of Gambill was reckless. The charges, Turner wrote, were retaliatory, “inappropriate, unconstitutional, and utterly without merit.”

Gambill’s charge of retaliation complicates the picture of a pending honor court trial, Thorp wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

“For several weeks, the University has grappled with how best to respond to a public claim of retaliation against the University while maintaining the autonomy and integrity of our Honor Court proceedings and the privacy of the individuals involved,” his letter said.

“Recognizing the potential conflicts that may exist by allowing both processes to continue, we have asked the Student Attorney General to suspend the Honor Court proceeding pending an external review of these allegations of retaliation. The University takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception.”

Gresham said he anticipates that the honor court hearing will go forward once the retaliation complaint is reviewed.

The original complaint about UNC-CH’s handling of sexual assaults is now under investigation by the federal Office for Civil Rights. A separate federal investigation is looking into the question of whether UNC-CH violated the Clery Act, which requires the reporting of campus crime statistics.

And now, the university is contending with the retaliation complaint, even while a national consultant is working with the campus to examine broader issues of sexual misconduct on campus.

“These are difficult and complex issues playing out all around the country,” Thorp said Tuesday. “Everybody working through this is learning about the right way to do all of this. I think it’s going to serve Carolina and higher education well that this whole thing is going on, as difficult as it is.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559
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