News and Commentary

Accused Student Awarded $142,000 In Attorney’s Fees After Court Finds Campus Procedures Unfair
A blue handled paint brush sweeps across a white background with thick red paint
Jonathan Kitchen via Getty Images

A University of Southern California (USC) student was awarded $142,100 in attorney’s fees after the California Second District Court of Appeal found the student was “denied a fair hearing” after being accused of sexual assault and rape.

The student, referred to in court documents reviewed by The Daily Wire as John Doe, was accused of sexually assaulting and raping a woman referred to only as Jane Roe after a night of partying and drinking. The two met while attending a “paint party” during which participants threw cups of paint on each other. Multiple colors of paint were used, including red. One student later interviewed as a witness during John’s Title IX investigation said she had red paint on her body, including behind her ears, for days after the party.

John and Jane were both drinking that night. Jane reported fell down a few times during the night, but the only video surveillance footage of her shows her walking fine. Witnesses from the party said she began to lean on people throughout the night and act in a matter inconsistent with her shy nature. At one point in the night, she sat on a strange man’s lap and was described by one of her friends as “very flirty.”

Jane was dating another student, referred to as “Andrew,” who was not at the party. Eventually, the group of students, including John and Jane, left the party. The other members of the group left, and John and Jane returned to her apartment. Footage from inside the elevator shows Jane pushing the wrong button for her apartment floor and looking around several other floors before finding her own. It also shows her interacting with others in the elevator and walking on her own. In her apartment, Jane vomited.

John left after their sexual encounter and apologized twice for his behavior, saying he had “no right to do what he did.”

The morning after the encounter, Jane claimed to have found puddles of blood on her sheets, air mattress, carpet, rectum, and thighs. She also acknowledged she still had paint on her body and wore a dress to cover but preserve the marks. She had texted Andrew, the man she was dating, during the night and he picked her up from the rape treatment center the next day. At Jane’s apartment, at her direction, Andrew threw out the sheets and deflated the air mattress.

Witnesses gave conflicting accounts about the marks in Jane’s apartment. Andrew agreed that there was blood in the apartment, but one of Jane’s other friends said she didn’t see blood. Photos of the apartment taken after the sheets were thrown out did not show blood on the carpet, though Jane claimed it did.

Jane refused to report the encounter to police. She instead reported it to USC administrators but did not provide her clothing or medical records. John was unable to independently test these items. The main investigator did not independently interview several key witnesses and dismissed one witness’ statements after she said she didn’t see blood in the apartment after the encounter.

John was found responsible and expelled. He sued the school, but his lawsuit was dismissed. He appealed to the California Second District Court of Appeal and won. That decision found in part that John’s inability to cross-examine the witnesses and evidence against him denied him a fair hearing. The case was remanded to the Superior Court of California and John was awarded attorney’s fees totaling $142,100. In her ruling, Judge Mitchell Beckloff rejected USC’s claim that students are harmed by fair investigations because it makes it more difficult to remove dangerous students from their campus.

“In opposition, Respondent suggests the Court of Appeal decision actually harms three million students by making it more difficult for schools to expel students the school believes committed harmful conduct,” Beckloff wrote. “The court disagrees. Ensuring a fair adjudicatory process for those accused of serious misconduct is not a societal harm. Instead, it is a key component of ensuring overall trust in an adjudicatory process. The court also disagrees with Respondent’s contention the decision here benefitted only a tiny percentage of students within the state. All students benefit from Respondent following its own policies and procedures.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated which Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision.