Case Studies: Discipline Hearings

Doctoral Student Preserves Degree Candidacy After Contested Formal Hearing

A physical therapy program at a large South Central public university charged our client with patient abuse and sexual misconduct. The charges alleged that our client had engaged in sexual touching of two clinic patients of the opposite sex on several successive occasions in treating each patient for a single condition. Our client, who had an excellent record and professional prospects, vehemently disputed the charges. Our client further related that the two patients had professed to him their own intimate relationship together, a disclosure that had made our client uncomfortable and that he had reported to his clinic supervisor. Our client suspected that the two patients were seeking to destroy his career out of some bizarre motive or attraction. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we invoked the program's formal hearing procedures. Those procedures ensured that our client could question adverse witnesses with our assistance while also presenting his own witnesses. We helped our client prepare cross-examinations of both patients and present the direct examination of his supervisor to whom he had reported his concerns and who had observed his competent performance of clinical duties. With our advice and assistance, our client's presentation showed the inconsistency of his accusers' accounts and his own consistency, veracity, and good character. The hearing resulted in a recommendation of dismissal of the charges with monitoring of future clinical duties. Our appeal of the monitoring condition resulted in a clearing of our client's entire discipline record. Our client proceeded in his education and career without further impact of the charges.

Sophomore Student Obtains Dismissal of All Disciplinary Charges at Informal Hearing

A small private college along the Pacific Coast accused our client, a sophomore in general studies, of bullying and threatening an international student in the same entering class. Our client and the international student had been friends until our client declined to participate with the international student in some questionable off-campus activities, including nightclub visits. The international student subsequently worked to undermine our client's reputation and relationships with other students whom they held as friends in common. Our client ignored those efforts until he learned of a defamatory rumor the international student was spreading as to our client's sexual preferences and activities. Our client's confrontation of the international student over those rumors went awry, leading to the disciplinary charges. When our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, we helped our client prepare a clear, organized, and detailed timeline of the two students' relationship, showing the international student's pattern of manipulation. We also helped our client obtain supporting statements from common friends of the two students to present at the upcoming informal hearing. Both students attended the informal hearing before the college's disciplinary investigator, but the international student walked out of the hearing halfway through our client's methodical and fact-based presentation. The investigator's subsequent report recommended dismissal of the charges against our client. The student affairs dean accepted the recommendation. The key to our winning defense was thorough, organized, and detailed factual documentation for the informal hearing.

Student Accused of Title IX Sexual Misconduct Prevails After Cross-Examination at Formal Hearing

A small public university in a North Central state charged our client, a senior in a communications program, with Title IX sexual misconduct. The charges involved a consensual intimate relationship that the complainant claimed she had cut off, after which the complainant alleged our client's nonconsensual sexual assault against her. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to dispute the charges at a contested Title IX formal hearing. Our client's account was the exact opposite of the complainant's allegations. Our client maintained that he cut off their relationship after discovering her intimate relationships with other male and female students. He further maintained that the complainant continued to attempt to force herself on him in a pattern that constituted hostile environment sexual harassment, although our client did not seek her discipline. We helped our client invoke the university's formal hearing procedures before a three-member panel that included one student, one professor, and one staff member. Our team's attorney advisor representative attended the formal hearing to conduct the complainant's cross-examination. That cross-examination showed such inconsistencies, disrespect for the proceeding, and disrespect for the institution and its students that the panel rejected the complainant's account wholesale while adopting our client's measured and balanced account. The panel decision was so clear and comprehensive that the complainant took no appeal of the dismissal of all charges against our client. We helped our client ensure that the university expunged all records of the charges. The key to our winning defense was the firm and carefully planned cross-examination of the complaining witness at the formal hearing.

Dental Student Prevails in Discipline Hearings Over Professional Misconduct Charges

A dental school associated with a public university along the Atlantic Coast charged our client with professional misconduct, including substandard treatment of two clinic clients and disregard of supervisor instructions. Our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, maintaining that our client was the casualty of an unrelated dispute between a retiring supervisor and the dental school. Our investigation tended to confirm that our client's clinic supervisor was an irascible character whom clinic staff and students no longer trusted for balanced and competent supervision. Indeed, our client was serving under the supervisor during the supervisor's last clinic service after the dental school had effectively forced the supervisor to retire. Our investigation also tended to show that our client might get supportive testimony from clinic staff and school administrators if not triggering the involved supervisor into an offensive posture. We confirmed that the hearing panel included three dental professionals who were already likely well aware of the supervisor's questionable conduct and reputation. We accordingly helped our client prepare a formal hearing presentation that avoided personal attacks on any patient, supervisor, staff member, or administrator while documenting to the greatest extent possible our client's steady performance under unusual circumstances. Our approach led to favorable testimony on direct examination from every dental school student and staff member whom our client called. It further likely contributed to the supervisor's last-minute refusal to testify, as he quietly walked out near the conclusion of our client's presentation. The hearing panel thus dismissed all charges, enabling our client to proceed with his dental education toward degree, licensure, and practice.

Graduate Student Avoids Professional Unfitness Determination After Formal Hearing Over Drunk Driving Conviction

A graduate program in social work at a large public university located in a Northern Midwest state charged our client with professional unfitness after a drunk driving charge that also involved minor children in the vehicle. The criminal prosecution did not include an endangerment of minors charge, although it could have been under the circumstances. Our client's local criminal defense attorney recommended the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to handle the social work program's fitness proceeding against our client. The program's student code of conduct and related policies noted that criminal convictions involving endangering behavior could constitute grounds to dismiss a student for unfitness for social work. School suspension or other discipline for unfitness would also lead to problems obtaining a professional social work license or certification and social work employment. Our investigation sought to place the drunk driving circumstances in their full context, tending to mitigate the seriousness of the charge. Our investigation further sought to present the strongest possible case at a formal hearing for our client's reliable character and rehabilitation. We thus helped our client call social work faculty members, supervisors, and former employers as character and competence witnesses, and counselors and family members showing our client's recovery and rehabilitation. Our client was not an alcohol drinker but had unwisely imbibed on the one occasion she suffered a drunk driving arrest. After this presentation, the hearing panel exercised its discretion not to dismiss or suspend our client but only to impose conditions our client had already fulfilled. Our client continued in the program, prepared to earn her social work degree and qualify for licensure or certification.

High School Student Avoids Alternative Placement After Formal Hearing on Teacher Assault Charges

A large suburban high school in a populous Atlantic Coast state charged our client, a high school sophomore just beginning the school year, with assault on the school's physical education teacher. Under state law, teacher assault created a presumption that the school would refer the student for alternative placement. Under state law, the school principal also suspended the student on an emergency basis while scheduling a formal hearing in the next ten days before the district superintendent, who was the district board's hearing designee. Our client's parents retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to help the family prepare for the formal hearing. Our client contended that he had not at all intended to physically encounter, touch, or assault his gym teacher. He was instead engaged in typical horseplay with another student in the class, preparing for their wrestling training and matches. Our client hadn't noticed that the gym teacher had been trying to call the class to order or that the teacher had approached the grappling boys from behind. Our client had mistakenly grabbed and tackled the teacher when the teacher attempted to separate the two wrestling boys, thinking that the teacher was another student. Our approach to the formal hearing was to emphasize our client's sterling record, strong school loyalty, and strong respect for school authorities, with an appropriate apology for the mistaken physical contact. Because substantial evidence existed that our client knew or should have known that he was tackling the teacher, we also helped our client call as a witness a family psychologist who examined our client for psychological stability and who was familiar with studies of the effect of adrenaline on perception. Our client's overall presentation was sufficiently balanced, diplomatic, and effective that the gym teacher supported leniency in discipline. The superintendent reinstated our client with discipline limited to the four school days already served on suspension.

Nursing Student Avoids Discipline After Hearing on Alcohol Possession and Consumption Charges

A nursing program at a large Southeastern public university charged our client with alcohol possession and consumption, and disorderly conduct, in a study room at the nursing library. Surveillance cameras in the library did not cover the private study rooms in the back of the library. Library staff knew from litter students left in the garbage cans in the rooms that students sometimes used the rooms for illicit activities, including alcohol consumption, drug use, and sexual encounters. After one such discovery of alcohol containers and sexual material, the nursing school's disciplinary officials examined surveillance video of the open library spaces and study room reservation records, narrowing the suspects down to our client. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team after receiving notice of the charges, which included a warning that discipline could include suspension or dismissal. Our investigation included obtaining the nursing school's inculpatory evidence, especially the surveillance video and reservation records. Our forensics consultant helped our team and our client prepare a defense based on showing that many other students, members of the public, and university employees could also have had access to the study room during the period in question. We also ensured that our client understood the nature and format of the disciplinary hearing so that his testimony would be clear, articulate, and understandable. With our advice and assistance, our client succeeded in showing the single hearing officer that the nursing school could not meet its accepted burden of proving that he was more probably than not responsible for the alleged misconduct. The hearing officer dismissed the charges, enabling our client to continue and complete his nursing education.

Fraternity Student Avoids Discipline Over Hazing Allegations After Informal Hearing

A large and prominent private college in the Northeastern United States charged our client, a senior-year fraternity student, with hazing and physical assault on two fraternity pledges. Our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to help him prepare for a contested formal hearing. Our investigation, including consultation with our client and interviews with several of his fraternity brothers, confirmed that our client had not participated in or encouraged the hazing of the two complaining pledges. Accounts showed that the pledges had withdrawn their pledges after rough touch-football games, difficult yard work, including attempting to remove tree stumps and other typically arduous but reasonably safe pledge challenges in which our client, other fraternity brothers, and the other pledges had voluntarily engaged and completed in recent years. Our research confirmed that our client could submit an informal hearing and resolution before the college's student affairs director or demand a formal hearing before a panel of professors and students. We helped our client evaluate formal and informal hearing options, arriving at the determination to pursue informal resolution. Our client had participated productively in programs the student affairs director had led and believed that the director would not be swayed by emotional judgments in the way that other students and professors might be. We also helped our client obtain witness statements from the other pledges and his fraternity brothers to present at the informal conference and helped our client plan and organize his informal hearing presentation. The director subsequently recommended dismissal of the charges when only one of the two complainants attended the informal hearing, and the complainant admitted that our client's presentation was substantially correct.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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