Falsely Accused of Law School Misconduct

Every matriculant's nightmare would be to gain admission to the perfect law school to pursue a dream career only to have someone falsely accuse you of misconduct. Unfortunately, that nightmare comes true for some law students.

Misconduct charges will drain the blood, energy, and hopes out of just about anyone. Never are the charges more daunting, though, than when the accusations are wholly without basis, false, and even frivolous, but nevertheless embarrassing, burdensome, and distracting, threatening everything you pursued. Law students can more or less readily face accusations grounded in real events. The questions are then the reasons and excuses for the alleged misconduct. But when the actions of which the school accuses the student never happened, the whole proceeding becomes a nightmare.

Given the enormous stakes and equally enormous emotional and mental challenge, a law student facing false accusations of misconduct needs the advice and representation of national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento has made it his nationwide practice to save the careers and futures of students from false or exaggerated misconduct charges. Read here what attorney Joseph Lento shares about the nature and cause of false misconduct charges and what his skilled representation can do about them.

Persons Making False Misconduct Accusations

False misconduct charges in law school can come from any one of several directions. Complaining witnesses, those who allege misconduct that did not in fact occur, can include other law students, teaching assistants, professors, proctors or other exam administrators, other law school staff, deans and department chairs, or even internship supervisors, clinic clients, and other outsiders who deal with a student. These constituencies tend to have these different responsibilities, experiences, observations, and interests contributing to their false accusations:

  • student peers tend to interact with the accused student more often, more socially and even intimately, and less formally than others who might falsely report misconduct. Student social interaction increases the likelihood of behavioral complaints about things like sexual misconduct or other interpersonal violence, and drug or alcohol abuse. Student social interaction also creates greater chances for misunderstanding, bias, interest, and even such things as personalities, affinities, and competition to play a role in the false charges;
  • teaching assistants likewise tend to interact with the accused student at a less formal and more-familiar level than professors and administrators, although primarily around academic matters. Teaching assistants are less likely to falsely report the behavioral issues characteristic of student-on-student complaints but more likely to report academic issues, as students seeking a teaching assistant's academic support describe their academic activities and efforts. Teaching assistants are students, though, once again creating a risk of interpersonal issues influencing false charges;
  • professors see less of law students' social and personal interactions and are thus less likely to falsely report behavioral issues, although they may report behavioral issues that appear to arise around class or office hours. More likely, professors will falsely report academic issues having to do with their coursework. Interpersonal issues are less likely to influence a professor's false report. Misunderstandings over course requirements and instructions, misjudgments on things like plagiarism and unauthorized collaboration, and misattribution of one student's misconduct to another innocent student, are more-frequent sources of a professor's false misconduct charges;
  • proctors and other exam administrators are most likely to make false accusations relating to exam conduct, things like using unauthorized materials, writing beyond the allotted time, cheating in the exam room, and other violations of exam conditions. Interpersonal interactions are less likely to influence their false reports unless they are students who have substantial interactions with the accused;
  • other law school staff like admissions personnel, registrars, placement coordinators, security officers, and custodians may have relatively substantial interaction with law students going well beyond academic issues. They may make false reports on things like the grounds for absences, leaves, or accommodations, trespass into unauthorized areas, theft of or damage to school or other-student property, and misuse of facilities involving sexual activity, drugs, or alcohol. Interpersonal interactions are less likely to influence their reports, while false reports and complaints from other students are more likely to influence them;
  • deans and department chairs sometimes make false misconduct charges but typically based on information from other complaining witnesses like students, professors, and staff members. They may, however, inappropriately aggregate true or false information from several sources into an inaccurately negative student profile influencing their false charges. Seeing patterns where they don't exist, attributing actions to the wrong student, and making poor judgments of character and intention, may influence a dean or department chair to make a false charge;
  • supervisors, clients, and other outsiders interacting with a law student around academic responsibilities, whether in clinics, internships, pro bono service, or co-curricular activities, may make false reports either of behavioral issues or professional-conduct issues. Those false allegations may include such things as student bias, discrimination, and harassment in their interaction, or failure to perform critical duties or performing them contrary to professional ethics, such as breach of confidentiality.

Each of these constituencies has its own viewpoint and interest. National law student attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how those constituent viewpoints and interests can influence false misconduct charges. He puts that insight to his clients' strategic defense when identifying witnesses, organizing presentations, cross-examining witnesses, and advocating that the false reports lack critical credibility. Read next how bias, interest, and other factors can influence false charges.

Causes of False Misconduct Accusations

The several causes of false misconduct charges fall into two classes: (1) mistaken observations in which the complaining witness has nothing to lose or gain, believes the observations to be accurate, but lacks a reliable basis or exhibits poor judgment to see their inaccuracy; or (2) purposeful manipulation of false charges to further interests and accomplish ends, knowing that the charges lack a factual basis. Consider how national law-student attorney Joseph D. Lento identifies and approaches each false-accusation class, taking appropriate advantage of the law school's administrative hearing procedures.

Mistaken Observations. The rules of evidence require fact witnesses to have a foundation in personal observation, supporting their testimony. Federal Rule of Evidence 602 provides, “A witness may testify to a matter only if evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.” While administrative proceedings deciding student misconduct generally do not follow evidence rules, evidence principles certainly inform the lawyers and law students participating in those proceedings. A complaining witness, whether a student, professor, or other school constituent, cannot just start incriminating the innocent law student. They must first show how they know that to which they testify--their personal observations.

As a skilled trial lawyer, national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to demonstrate a complaining witness's lack of a foundation in personal observation. He can also highlight why the incriminating witness is mistaken, showing how the lack of personal knowledge led the witness to speculate, conjecture, and assume in error. Every trial lawyer knows that the fact witness testifying without foundation in personal knowledge carries a big target on cross-examination. Attorney Lento knows how to make the most of hitting that target.

Manipulative Charges. The rules and principles of evidence also permit the impeachment of complaining witnesses who have a proverbial ax to grind. State evidence rules and the federal common law of evidence permit impeachment based on the witness's bias or interest. Alabama Rule of Evidence 616, for example, provides, “A party may attack the credibility of a witness by presenting evidence that the witness has a bias or prejudice for or against a party to the case or that the witness has an interest in the case.” Evidence rules also permit impeachment based on bad character for truth-telling. Federal Rule of Evidence 608(a) states in pertinent part, “A witness's credibility may be attacked or supported by testimony about the witness's reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness….”

As an experienced trial lawyer who is also intimately familiar with the academy of higher education, national academic attorney Joseph Lento knows when complaining witnesses are testifying out of bias or interest. Students fabricate accusations for a variety of reasons, including to cover up their own wrong or shame, shift blame from themselves to innocent others, take down a student who they perceive to have undue advantages, get back at a student who they perceive as less deserving of an award or position than they are, and leverage money or favors. Unfortunately, some students are simply pathological liars. Professors and staff members fabricate accusations for other reasons, including to cover up their own malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or error, and even to bully, intimidate, and gain favors from students. National academic attorney Joseph Lento has the aggressive approach and strong skills to expose liars.

Types of False Accusations

Of what misconduct, though, do law students get falsely accused? The types of false accusations fall into two general classes: (1) behavioral issues; and (2) academic issues. Either type of false accusation can profoundly affect a law student's education and career, if not defeated. Consider how national academic attorney Joseph Lento approaches each type of false accusation.

Behavioral Issues. One of the most-serious behavioral-misconduct charges is sexual misconduct. Fortunately, current Title IX regulations, applicable to several types of serious sexual-misconduct charges, provide a falsely accused student with procedural protections. Those protections include the right to a hearing, to retain a lawyer of the student's choosing, to have the lawyer cross-examine witnesses, and to a finding of misconduct only on clear and convincing evidence. These procedures are exactly the type to enable national academic attorney Joseph Lento to impeach the lying, exaggerating, misleading, or mistaken witness, often on the grounds of bias, prejudice, and interest arising out of relationships gone wrong.

Other false accusations of behavioral misconduct can include drug and alcohol abuse, drug possession or distribution, property theft or destruction, trespass, personal violence, and threats or intimidation. Some of these false accusations involve mistaken identity. Others presume an innocent student's participation with other guilty students, in the form of implication by association, casting a net too wide. The strategic approach to such false charges is to reveal the incriminating witness's lack of a reliable foundation for the false testimony.

Academic Issues. The second type of false accusations has to do with academic issues, whether exam cheating, plagiarism or other cheating on a paper, or other actions showing a lack of academic integrity. Academic-misconduct charges are serious for a different reason than behavioral issues. Rather than raising health and safety concerns, academic charges implicate integrity questions, threatening disqualification from licensure and career. National academic attorney Joseph Lento typically approaches false academic charges first by exposing any lack of foundation and then any bias or interest.

In all such cases of false accusation, the innocent accused student deserves a thorough presentation of exonerating evidence. Yes, exposing the complaining witness's lack of a factual foundation or the witness's bias or interest is a sound strategic approach. But any such approach should include a thorough investigation and compelling presentation of exonerating evidence. That evidence may well include the innocent student's own testimony but may also include forensics experts on handwriting, technology experts on electronic tracing, and eyewitnesses and character witnesses. These premier trial skills are exactly what national academic attorney Joseph Lento offers the falsely accused law student.

Get the Help of a Premier National Academic Attorney

You know that your law degree, law career, and future are worth an aggressive defense to false misconduct charges, well worth retaining national law student attorney Joseph D. Lento. False charges can be the most aggravating. They can also be the most defensible. But you must have skilled representation from an attorney with trial experience. Don't let an administrative hearing board take lying witnesses at face value. Don't let a decision-maker credit testimony from a mistaken witness who had no factual foundation for it. Retain national law student attorney Joseph D. Lento to expose and defeat false allegations. Hundreds of students nationwide have trusted attorney Joseph Lento to successfully defend against false misconduct charges. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the Lento Law Firm's online service.

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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 our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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