A federal judge has threatened sanctions against the Philadelphia law firm that Baylor University hired to investigate its handling of student sexual assault allegations, saying the firm has violated court orders to turn over documents to attorneys for women suing the university.

Normally soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman appears to have lost patience with the Pepper Hamilton law firm and has set a hearing for Monday at which the judge, who said he thinks sanctions are appropriate, will allow the firm’s attorneys to explain why the judge’s orders were ignored.

In an extensive, 37-page order filed June 7 that details much of the history of the 3-year-old case, the judge said he also has concerns about Baylor’s record of compliance with his discovery orders and also summoned Baylor officials to attend the hearing to explain their actions.

The show-cause hearing initially was to be held in Waco, but Pitman, of Austin, moved it to Austin.

Pitman is presiding over the suits filed by 15 former Baylor students known as Jane Doe 1-15, who allege the Baptist university fumbled how it handled their sexual assault complaints and fostered an atmosphere that downplayed the accusations.

In response to the sexual assault scandal, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton to investigate, and the firm concluded there was a “fundamental failure” in how the school handled sexual assault allegations, according to a summary of the firm’s conclusions released by the Baylor Board of Regents.

The investigation led to the dismissal of Baylor football coach Art Briles and prompted the departure of Baylor President Ken Starr and Athletics Director Ian McCaw.

Baylor and Pepper Hamilton have insisted Pepper Hamilton compiled no final report of its findings, and as discovery in the lawsuits has progressed, plaintiffs’ attorneys Jim Dunnam and Chad Dunn repeatedly have called for both Baylor and Pepper Hamilton to produce anything and everything they have on the investigation.

Dunnam and Dunn have reported to Pitman that emails they have received contain evidence that a report exists, although Pepper Hamilton remains steadfast that no such report exists.

Pitman remains unconvinced, writing in his order that “there is now a fact dispute about whether Pepper Hamilton ever prepared a ‘final’ or ‘internal’ report on the investigation that was delivered to Baylor in some form but never publicly released.”

Pitman said he will use the hearing to get to the bottom of whether such a report detailing the school’s failures exists. He also will give attorneys for the law firm a chance to convince him why the firm should not be held in contempt and fined for abuses of the discovery process.

“This violation has caused three months of delay in a case that has already been pending for three years and forced the parties to revisit issues that should have been resolved two years ago when the subpoena was first issued,” Pitman wrote. “This conduct increases costs for all parties and wastes public resources that are meant for adjudicating good faith disputes.”

Bill Cobb, who represents Pepper Hamilton, and Lisa Brown, who represents Baylor, did not return phone messages seeking comment for this story.

Dunnam and Baylor spokesman Tonya Hudson both declined comment on the judge’s order and the upcoming hearing.

Regarding Baylor, Pitman also said he has “continuing concerns” about the school’s compliance record on his discovery orders.

“Baylor’s repeated discovery of materials at the eleventh hour makes this case longer, more burdensome, and more expensive for all parties,” he wrote.

Pitman also wrote that Baylor continued to provide thousands of pages of documents to plaintiffs’ attorneys even after certifying to the court in September that they had complied with all discovery orders.

“Neither Baylor nor Pepper Hamilton have adequately explained when, how or why these documents were suddenly discovered,” the judge said. “The record suggests that Baylor may have withheld court-ordered production.”

In a motion filed Friday, Dunnam reported that since Pitman’s ruling was entered, the plaintiffs received another large packet of discovery materials from Baylor, again after receiving assurances from Baylor that it was in compliance.

Included in the packet, the motion states, were at least 12 audio recordings from the Baylor Police Department, including a recording of one of the plaintiffs being interviewed by Baylor police. Dunnam had requested that all materials concerning his clients be disclosed to the attorneys before the women were deposed, and Baylor assured him that it had done so. The woman in the interview recording was deposed March 14, 11 weeks before the tape was produced, the motion states.

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Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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