For better or worse, attorneys seeking to frustrate or impede justice have plenty of legal tools at their disposal. However, after some three years of delaying civil lawsuits filed by 15 former Baylor University students, Baylor would seem to have exhausted the patience of one of the more patient of federal judges. The Pepper Hamilton law firm tapped to conduct the investigation into Baylor’s mishandling of sexual-assault cases has similarly employed legal gyrations prolonging all this.
As veteran Trib staff writer Tommy Witherspoon reported, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman held a 90-minute show-cause hearing Monday in Austin on failure after failure by Baylor and Pepper Hamilton to produce relevant discovery materials in a timely manner to attorneys representing the former students in their Title IX lawsuits against the Christian school. Pitman clearly got the attention of the parties, Witherspoon said, “telling them the discovery process has dragged on far too long and that it’s high time to resolve the cases known as Jane Does 1-15 vs. Baylor University.”
In our Saturday news section and Sunday opinion section, the Trib provided some examples of these delays, but for skeptics here’s more: The court as well as attorneys for the former students only recently learned Pepper Hamilton was retained by Baylor not solely to conduct an investigation into the handling of sexual-assault cases involving students but other cases supposedly “unrelated to the investigation.” Except these other cases strike us (and the judge) as relevant in many regards, including implementing Title IX policies and practices in the wake of the scandal and a related investigation involving the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.
“It is inexplicable why Pepper Hamilton is raising these objections for the first time now, on a motion to reconsider,” Pitman noted in a tersely worded June 7 court order. “Pepper Hamilton should have recognized and disclosed these other matters no later than March 15, 2019, because Pepper Hamilton was ordered to articulate any objections to the production [of discovery materials] by that date and had therefore an obligation to review all potentially responsive materials before that date. Pepper Hamilton offers no explanation for this timing. Again, this gives the appearance that Pepper Hamilton’s objections are designed to create delay.”
Baylor and Pepper Hamilton attorneys have offered excuses for delays, including citing complexities involved (with legal costs for Baylor reportedly standing at some $4.5 million as of May 2). Baylor attorney Julie Springer has explained the task is complicated by federal privacy laws that require redacting documents and determining which documents should be considered privileged. Given that U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his staff at the Department of Justice managed to redact a lengthy federal investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections in less time, we’re not sure the excuses by Baylor and Pepper Hamilton will fly any further in Judge Pitman’s courtroom. It’s time for stinging sanctions to ensure something resembling justice for the 15 former Baylor students.