Dow bails out Yale’s accused

Students who can recite his voice mail message by heart pepper Yale’s campus.

“Hi, this is Willie Dow,” the message says. “Depending on the day I’m either counting my blessings, cursing my fate or saying the rosary. Leave a message, leave your number.”

Yalies in trouble with the law seem to know only one lawyer: William F. Dow III ’63. With over 30 years of experience in private practice, Dow — a New Haven native — has represented Yale students charged with everything from public urination to sexual assault. With several cases involving Yale students currently working their way through the courts, Dow said he is as busy as ever, in part because of what he deemed stricter enforcement of the law by the Yale Police Department and in part because of increasingly egregious law-breaking by intoxicated students.

Dow’s most recent Yale clients include Casper Desfeux ’10, accused in mid-September of illegally filming a sexual encounter he had with a female student; David Light ’09, charged over the summer with bomb making and weapons possession; and Hyder Akbar ’07, charged last spring with arson and criminal mischief. Beyond campus, Dow has also represented former Connecticut Governor John Rowland against charges of corruption in 2004.

Dow said almost all of the charges against his student clients are eventually dropped, usually after the students complete community service. He said his popularity with Yalies can be attributed to word-of-mouth communication of his record of success.

Other lawyers in New Haven said Dow’s reputation among Yale students is well deserved.

“Dow has a lock on the market,” local criminal defense lawyer Norman Pattis said. “He’s a great lawyer and a great negotiator, and if you’re from out of town and go to the best university, you’re going to want the best lawyer.”

The YPD has changed in many ways since Dow began practicing law in New Haven, contributing to a markedly changed atmosphere on campus, Dow said. He said the YPD used to act as a “buffer” between Yale students and the stricter New Haven Police Department. But now, Dow said, the YPD has expanded its role from acting as “ambassadors” to enforcing the law to its fullest extent — a development that has brought more Yalies knocking at his door.

YPD officials, however, disputed the assertion that the force has changed significantly in recent years.

“Based on my experience, the YPD has always been a professional law enforcement agency,” said YPD Sgt. Steven Woznyk, who served on the New Haven Police Department for 16 years before joining the YPD two years ago. “Its priority has always been to work with the New Haven Police Department to solve, prevent and reduce crimes.”

At the same time, Woznyk said, the YPD does maintain its autonomy and, unlike the NHPD, can send students before the University’s Executive Committee if it chooses not to pursue an arrest. ExComm sometimes imposes stricter punishments than New Haven courts, he said.

Jill Cutler, an assistant dean of Yale College and secretary of ExComm, said about a quarter of ExComm’s cases are also heard in New Haven courts.

That’s where Dow steps in.

One student, a former client of Dow’s who asked to remain anonymous, said he was happy with the way Dow handled his case. The student was arrested after being caught urinating in public while intoxicated and was referred to Dow by his college dean. He said he was shocked by how harshly he was treated by the YPD, but Dow was able to help him navigate the New Haven justice system.

“It was clear he had a process for the way he handled Yale students’ cases,” he said.

Dow’s competence is a product of years of experience with an evolving YPD. Although Dow avoids criticizing the YPD’s tactics, several students speculated that because YPD officers confront relatively minor infractions of the law — intoxicated students on their way home from Toad’s Place or freshmen throwing unregistered parties — they react strongly to the few more serious crimes, which generates Dow’s heavy Yale case load.

“The YPD is a bunch of Barney Rubble wannabes,” Pattis said. “I think there are some officers who arrest aggressively to build their reputations and show other departments that they’re tough on crime.”

Despite its affiliation with the University, Dow said the YPD does not give Yale students special treatment, and once arrested, students may actually receive less friendly treatment than other citizens in the New Haven court system.

“Yalies are perceived as always asking for special treatment in court,” Dow said. “Prosecutors may be inclined to go out of their way to help for a few, but after a while, they begin to resent students who are treating the city like a hotel lobby … It’s not surprising to me that a Yale student might spend a little more time in the lockup than your average person on the street.”

If part of the reason Dow is so busy is the increased vigilance of the YPD, he said another factor is the University’s stance on underage alcohol consumption, which has become more tolerant in recent decades. He said much of the work he does on behalf of students — like the work he did in the public-urination case — is a result of the University’s toleration of underage drinking.

“Yale appears to turn pretty much a blind eye toward drinking,” Dow said. “From my perspective as a lawyer, alcohol creates many of the problems which students find themselves in.”

Cutler said alcohol plays a big role in many of the violations of undergraduate regulations that make it to ExComm, but she defended the University’s policies toward drinking. And police and alcohol aside, Dow said some crimes committed by Yale students are the result of a more obvious change that has occurred since he was a student.

“In 1963, when I graduated, Yale was an all-boys school, and so the opportunity for some of the promiscuous behavior really didn’t exist,” Dow said.

Even though it might be bad for his business — and could leave him with more time for counting the rosary — Dow said he sees a need for greater communication between the University and its students regarding the law.

“At a minimum, the University has a responsibility to educate its students about what kind of consequences can arise in New Haven,” Dow said. “I don’t think students understand those consequences, and I don’t think the University understands that sometimes a kinder, gentler approach is best for all parties.”

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