A judge has ruled that a UC Santa Barbara freshman who sued the university may now return to school after over 200 days of indefinite suspension.
The student, listed in court documents as John Doe, was initially barred from attending school after UCSB opened a Title IX investigation against him.
The university opened an investigation after it discovered a 19-second video in which Doe and his ex-girlfriend argued on camera before the screen went black.
In the video, Doe told his then-girlfriend she “already busted [her] lip, I can bust it up even more,” according to a brief from the UC Regents to the appellate court during a previous part of the litigation process.
University officials said this video is evidence that Doe hit his then-girlfriend, and they wrote in court documents that “the 19-second video depicting [Doe] threatening to assault a young woman amply justified the interim suspension while the University completes its investigation.”
The investigation by UCSB, which has yet to place charges on the student, is ongoing without major developments, and key witnesses have not been interviewed.
Judge Thomas P. Anderle, the judge who ruled that the student may return to school, said that the evidence in the case “suggests UCSB never made an effort to contact Jane Doe to corroborate the statements attributed to her.”
John Doe’s suspension will remain lifted even if the university places charges against the freshman. The stay on the suspension will remain in effect “up to and including any final judgment in that case, after all appeals, if any,” according to Judge Anderle’s ruling.
The court ruled that UCSB must also assist Doe by giving him full access to all programs and activities at UCSB with no restrictions, returning him to his assigned on-campus dorm room, allowing him to complete all classes, giving him priority enrollment and providing any assistance necessary from any of the university offices.
Judge Anderle said in his decision that the university took too long to investigate, failing to fulfill both the 60-calendar-day deadline federally required for Title IX investigations and the 60-business-day deadline agreed upon by the university.
“The Court of Appeal found that the University’s inaction over such a lengthy period of time, leaving Petitioner in limbo, appears unreasonable and arbitrary,” Judge Anderle said in the court ruling.
Judge Anderle ruled that the university had caused “irreparable harm” to the student by failing to conduct the investigation in a timely manner, leaving him suspended indefinitely.
“This Court concludes that the University is intentionally doing indirectly what it is unwilling to do directly. The University has made a decision to deny John Doe the opportunity to enroll in the any [sic] of the first three quarters of his freshman year,” Anderle said in the court ruling. “But instead of making that decision based upon the facts, the law, and in fairness, it has decided to do it their own way.”
According to Doe’s lawyer, Robert Ottilie, Doe moved into his on-campus dorm during Spring Break and said the university has been very helpful with the process of assimilating Doe to life in college.
“They could not have been more helpful. The school has been responsive to the ruling,” Ottilie said.
UCSB spokeswoman Andrea Estrada said the university “will make every effort to ensure the student’s success” while they complete the adjudication process.
“We respect the court’s rulings and have complied with the court’s order,” she said in an email.
Ottilie said Doe is very happy with the decision because it now allows him to start his life, beginning with attending his “dream school.”
Ottilie said he was not surprised by the judge’s ruling to remove Doe’s suspension, as he felt the law was clearly on his side.
“It really wasn’t very much of a surprise. The law is very clear,” he said.
Despite the fact that Doe has won his ruling to return to school, he still faces an ongoing investigation against him on behalf of the university, a lawsuit against that claim in court and several hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees that he must pay.
According to the ruling, Doe has incurred over $100,000 in attorney’s fees and costs just through his filing in December of 2016. The ruling said he has “undoubtedly incurred substantially more in fees and costs since that time.”
Ottilie said Doe is unable to pay that amount of money and does not expect him to pay the expenses anytime soon. Ottilie himself has incurred $50,000 of out-of-pocket costs from representing Doe against the university.
As for what Doe will decide to study now that he has started school this Spring Quarter, Ottilie said he does not know what particular major the first-year will choose while at UCSB. Ottilie said it would not surprise him if Doe went on to study law later on.
Ottilie also said he will continue to investigate abuses of the particular code in the Regents’ laws that the university has used to keep Doe and students in similar situations from attending school.
Ottilie said new information has come out that suggests the university withheld information during the judicial process, so he also plans to amend the lawsuit to include four UCSB staff members involved in Doe’s 200-day suspension.
Included in the proposed amendment are Kristi Johnson, principal investigative analyst of the Title IX office; Margaret Klawunn, vice chancellor for student affairs; Sandra Vasquez, associate dean of judicial affairs; and Brian Quillen, also principal investigative analyst of the Title IX office.
Estrada said the university has not yet seen any amended complaint.
A version of this story appeared on p. 4 of the Thursday, April 6, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.