The end of campus kangaroo courts?

By this point, I’ve lost track of all the stories we’ve covered here about young college men who are accused of sexual assault, rape or other offenses and then face a “trial” in front of a bunch of college administrators and professors. Sometimes the charges sound quite plausible and they may indeed have been guilty. Other claims sound far more dubious. But the one thing they all seem to have in common is a lack of due process.

Perhaps this highly flawed, unfair and even dangerous practice will finally be coming to an end. This story from the New York Post features one “John Doe” attending Penn State who was accused of sexual assault by another student months after they had a sexual encounter. The kangaroo court he faced searched the pair’s text records and found that he had initiated their encounter by texting the words “you’re beautiful.” This was found to be “cajoling,” a subset of “coercion.” The student was kicked out of school.

Now the student is fighting back, filing a suit against the school for the derailing of his academic life and more. But he’s not the only one. The story profiles New York attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who is building a class action suit for any students who have faced these kangaroo courts and been denied due process.

Miltenberg is one of a new class of lawyers who specialize in campus due-process cases; he represented the successful defendant in Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl” ­affair, for example. This month, he launched the first ever class-action suit on behalf of college students denied due process.

He figures that a class action, a suit on behalf of a number of people, is splashy enough to at least bring more attention to the issue. And publicity over the suit could draw in “men hiding in the shadows, too ­embarrassed to come forward or without the funds to hire a lawyer.” (He is working on getting his class recognized by a court.)

Backing the courtroom efforts are organizations like Save Our Sons, whose modest goal is to “keep our sons enrolled in college and educated,” and Title IX for All, which maintains a comprehensive database of legal documents to aid lawyers and potential plaintiffs.

Miltenberg makes an excellent point here. Even when falsely accused young men bring a lawsuit and win, that’s a drop in the bucket to most schools. A handful of cases where they have to pay out a six or seven-figure settlement aren’t going to slow the roll of a school with an eleven billion dollar endowment (like the one Penn State has). But a wide spread of plaintiffs hitting all the schools doing this at one time might.

The real tragedy here is that we have to go through this exercise in the first place. As noted in the article, much of this dates back to the disastrous “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the Department of Education during Barack Obama’s presidency. The worst portions have since been rolled back, but the practice of holding these kangaroo courts continues.

None of this serves the interest of justice. If the accused young man is innocent, he should be able to be represented by legal counsel, be able to question witnesses and examine the evidence. And it should be done in court. Even more to the point, if the accused is actually guilty of rape or sexual assault, he needs to be in jail. Kicking him out of school does nothing but ship a known sex offender back out into the community to potentially attack other women.

Getting justice for the falsely accused is an admirable goal and Miltenberg is working on something important. But the far more critical job is to fix this broken system and move trials for accused sex offenders back into the courtroom where they belong.