STANFORD, Calif. — Five Stanford professors have urged the university to reinstate an outside attorney who was dismissed for comments she made against the school’s handling of sexual-assault complaints.
The university started a Title IX legal-assistance program to help students who have been sexually assaulted or accused of sexual assault get legal assistance, according to a report on Law.com.
Crystal Riggins is one of six outside attorneys the school has hired to represent both sides in a sexual-assault case. The three members of the panel hearing the case must agree in order to make a ruling.
Riggins was dismissed when, in an interview with the New York Times, she said, “It is frustrating because universities should be getting this right, and they are not, and the idea that they can keep pushing this under the rug doesn’t make the campus any safer, as we keep seeing as these incidents come to light.”
Michele Landis Dauber, a law and sociology professor, is one of the professors who has spoken out against Riggins’ dismissal.
“It is not very constructive to silence a critic instead of learning from her concerns,” Dauber told the Northern California Record.
Dauber — along with professors Deborah Rhode, Mark Lemley, David Palumbo-Liu and Shelley Correll — signed a letter to the school senate in support of a resolution urging Stanford to reinstate Riggins.
“We do not believe that it is appropriate to terminate an attorney for advocacy that the attorney believes is in her client’s interest,” they said in the letter.
Dauber expressed concern that the university firing someone for voicing their opinion may cause a chilling effect on other advocates.
“Even if Stanford is paying the bill, she owes a duty of loyalty only to her client,” Dauber said. “It is not appropriate for Stanford to try to influence an attorney’s conduct.”
Dauber believes flaws in the pilot program led to issues including conflicts of interest.
According to Dauber, of the six attorneys on the board, Riggins was the only attorney who represented solely victims. Three lawyers only defend alleged perpetrators, and two represent both victims and perpetrators.
There is fear that victims won’t feel comfortable turning to the university for help with the pilot program in its current state.
“This incident unfairly tarnishes Crystal’s reputation and drives students further away from trusting the University,” Dauber said.
Dauber suggested addressing issues with the program immediately rather than waiting three years for the pilot to run its course.
“It's very unfortunate,” she said. “It was an effort by Stanford to provide some assistance that just went sideways.”