Last October, Owen Labrie, a former student at St. Paul’s school in Concord, New Hampshire, was sentenced to a year in prison for sexually assaulting a freshman just before he graduated in 2014. The case has been a PR nightmare for the prestigious prep school, which is fighting to repair its image after Labrie’s victim’s parents filed a lawsuit claiming its administrators didn’t do enough to protect their daughter.
But it seems the school is willing to go to extreme lengths to keep the lawsuit from attracting media attention — according to the Boston Globe, St. Paul’s filed a motion on August 11 essentially threatening to force the victim to reveal her name in court documents unless she and her parents meet certain conditions during the trial.
The motion states that “judicial proceedings are supposed to be open and transparent,” and “only in ‘exceptional’ cases may a court grant a party anonymity in an otherwise public proceeding.” It goes on to say that in deciding whether to allow a plaintiff to appear in records anonymously, “A court must balance the plaintiff’s interest in anonymity against both the public interest in disclosure and any prejudice to the defendant.”
The motion goes on to say that in order for the case to be devoid of “prejudice”:
a) The victim’s parents, the victim, and “others acting on their behalf” “refrain” from making public statements about the case until it’s over;
b) The school is allowed to identify plaintiffs during depositions, and the victim and her family have to “bear the cost” of redacting any identifying information;
c) The victim isn’t allowed to use a pseudonym during the trial.
In a letter published on St. Paul’s website, Archibald Cox Jr., the president of the school’s Board of Trustees, wrote that the media had not “accurately reported” the filing, and insisted the school “did not oppose the family’s use of pseudonyms, and certainly did not request that the young woman’s name be made public … Rather, we agreed to the family’s use of pseudonyms during pretrial phases of the litigation, provided they agreed to stop improperly attacking the School’s character in statements to the press.” (He didn’t address the school’s request that the victim drop her pseudonym at trial.)
While Cox insists the school has done nothing wrong, it sure sounds like St. Paul’s is trying to keep the victim and her family quiet by threatening to force her to use her real name during the trial — something that could have real-world consequences.