A state trial court judge in Santa Barbara has held the Regents of the University of California in contempt in a case where she ordered the UC Santa Barbara to review the findings of a stalking case which resulted in a student expulsion.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna Geck last year gave UCSB the option of either reconsidering the appeal brought by the John Doe student in full or for the same appellate panel to review the case based on evidence beyond what was in the school’s Title IX investigative report, including evidence and statements presented by the parties at the hearing before the school’s Interpersonal Violence Appeal Review Committee.
Geck wrote in her contempt order handed down Friday that the school’s revised decision, which only changed the introductory sentence of one section, was “merely a poorly rewritten decision that appears to be a justification for the earlier result.” She ordered Doe reinstated to UCSB for the fall semester and scheduled for classes.
A spokeswoman for the UC Regents directed a request for comment to UCSB representatives. A spokeswoman for the school emailed the following statement: “The safety of our students and our campus community is our highest priority. We are currently reviewing the court’s order and considering our options, which include the possibility of appealing.”
UC is represented by Hailyn Chen and John Major of Munger Tolles & Olson.
The underlying case began in May 2016 when a fellow student who had briefly dated Doe in September 2015 reported to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office that for about a year he had followed her to and from her classes, staying about 100 feet behind her. She also accused Doe of having an unidentified third party send a series of disturbing phone calls and text messages to her.
After the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department took no action against Doe, the woman initiated a Title IX complaint against him at UC Santa Barbara. Doe denied the allegations, but the Title IX investigator assigned to the case found that it was “more likely than not” that he had stalked the woman.
In November 2016, Sandra Vasquez the school’s associate dean of students and director of the Office of judicial Affairs, agreed with the investigator’s finding and decided that dismissing Doe from UCSB was the appropriate sanction. Doe appealed that decision to the school’s internal Interpersonal Violence Appeal Review Committee, which upheld Vasquez’s decision in early 2017.
Doe’s lawyers, Mark Hathaway and Jenna Eyrich of Werksman Jackson Hathaway & Quinn in Los Angeles. asked the superior court for a writ of mandate setting aside the ruling in the school’s appeal arguing, in part, that the decision was unreasonable, given the evidence. They contended that the committee had improperly limited its review to the evidence presented in the investigator’s report. Geck granted the writ in December 2017 on that basis, writing that it was “not an academic conclusion” and that “standard of review is very important in a reviewing whether a decision is unreasonable based on the evidence.”
Back at the school, the committee reached the same decision on second look earlier this year. The committee’s written decision added a single additional sentence to its original, stating that it had taken into account evidence from the statements by Doe and his accuser at its earlier hearing, and testimony from others on top of the previously considered investigator’s findings.
But Geck was unpersuaded by the university’s contention that it had acted in accordance with her earlier ruling.
“The language of the Revised Appeal Decision is identical in every respect to the original Appeal Decision, except for the introductory sentence regarding Ground 2,” Geck wrote in Friday’s opinion. “The contradictory statements in the discussion of Ground 2 indicate that the panel did not genuinely reconsider the case, but simply added language that would make the original decision look like a truly reconsidered decision.”
Read the order below: