A federal judge declined a defense request to sanction attorneys for former Baylor University student Jasmin Hernandez Thursday for their comments to the media, but he reminded lawyers on both sides of the case about their responsibilities under the rules of professional conduct.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman conducted a status conference with attorneys involved in the lawsuit, including two plaintiffs’ attorneys who flew in from California for the 10-minute hearing.
Tevin Elliott raped Hernandez in 2012 while both were Baylor students. Elliott, who was on the football team at the time, was sentenced in 2014 to 20 years in prison.
Hernandez — who left Baylor and now is attending community college in California and managing a restaurant — named Baylor, former football coach Art Briles and former athletics director Ian McCaw as defendants in the lawsuit, which she has since amended.
Kenneth Tekell, a Houston attorney who represents Briles, filed a motion earlier this month charging that one of Hernandez’s attorneys, Alex Zalkin, breached attorney rules of conduct with statements he made about Briles to several media outlets.
Zalkin said at the time Briles broke a promise to apologize to Hernandez and to support her during a mediation session.
Pitman said Thursday that he would not rule on Tekell’s motion, suggesting that comments could have been made during “emotionally charged” moments and that the situation seems to have cooled considerably since then.
“I won’t comment on the motion, but every lawyer in this room knows how to do this,” Pitman said. “You know what you can and what you can’t say in the media. I am not going to say you can’t talk to the media, but you know where the line is. You know you can’t make statements calculated to affect the process.”
Lisa Brown, an attorney for Baylor, reminded the judge that the defendants have motions pending seeking the dismissal of the lawsuits.
She said since Hernandez amended her suit last week, Baylor would be filing an amended motion for summary judgment in return.
“We believe the plaintiff has not asserted a viable claim on the face of the pleadings and that has not been cured by the amended pleading,” Brown said.
Hernandez alleges Baylor mishandled her case and those of three other women who reported they were sexually assaulted by football players. Her amended suit added a fourth woman, who alleges she was gang raped by Baylor football players in 2011.
The Title IX lawsuit states Baylor had knowledge of the gang rape but “failed to respond promptly and equitably.”
The amended suit also added findings from a nine-month investigation by the Pepper Hamilton law firm that outlined “fundamental failure” by university officials at all levels to handle sexual assault allegations.
Hernandez is the only woman identified by her real name in the lawsuit. She has given permission for her name to be used.
No trial date has been set, and no hearing date has been set on the defendants’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit.