NEWS’ VIEW: A baseless lawsuit

The legal estate of Annie Le GRD ’13 has filed suit against Yale, alleging that the University is liable for her murder at the hands of technician Raymond Clark III. The suit’s only public supporter is Vivian Le, her biological mother; meanwhile, the two guardians who raised her have remained silent. Immediately after Annie’s death, when trauma was at its rawest, the family opposed taking legal action.

We will not speculate as to the motives or legal advice that led those involved to this decision. The family’s grieving remains none of our business. But what has been revealed so far about the lawsuit is not encouraging. Put simply, it strikes us as baseless.

The most troubling aspect of the case is its opportunistic emphasis on the Title IX complaint. The first words out of legal adviser Joe Tacopina’s mouth on the TODAY show Friday paraded this uncomfortable association. “At Yale, there’s a culture of tolerance for allowing sexual harassment,” he began. “There is a federal investigation on Yale right now for these very same offenses.” But Annie’s murder and the Title IX complaint couldn’t be less related. The complaint did not mention Yale employees or the graduate schools. It highlighted frat chanting and sexual assault reporting policies. Unless women had complained about Clark and been ignored, Yale would not have been guilty of a violation akin to those alleged in the Title IX complaint.

The suit paints an absurd picture: a Clark plotting to commit a sexual assault and murder only in the confidence that the University’s perverse sexual culture would “tolerate” it. This scenario is not consistent with the details of the case.

The lawsuit also claims that Yale is liable for hiring Clark, a man with no prior adult criminal record beyond a speeding ticket. While Clark had been accused of forcing himself on his high-school girlfriend, the University claims it did not know this. We believe them; in Connecticut, employers cannot access a job seeker’s juvenile record.

The lawsuit accuses Yale of criminal liability for having had “access” to this information, since it employed two of Clark’s relatives. But the amount of information Yale’s employees know that Yale doesn’t is astronomical. Unless the high-school story was reported to Yale authorities, the responsibility and negligence remain with Clark and his relatives.

Finally, the suit alleges that Yale is liable for failing to “promptly and adequately” investigate Le’s death. It first claims that the University should have noticed when Annie did not leave the building after a fire alarm on the day of her death. Given that no roll call is taken after fire alarms at almost any university, this seems absurd. Second, the suit faults the University for waiting until the next morning to start an investigation after Annie’s housemate reported her disappearance at 10:40 p.m. But standard police practice is to wait over a day to start a search after a missing persons report is filed.

The tragedy occurred in a locked room with key-card access that recorded entrances at all hours. Could any of us expect this kind of security in the real world? Can we litigate against random acts of evil? Can Yale keep us safe from everything?

Rounding the second anniversary of Annie’s tragic death, the lawsuit is opening wounds and dredging up horrific details. Legal analyses in this paper and others will have to re-report that Le “died a painful death.” The murder will be replayed, again and again. Yes, Yale’s image will suffer. But far worse, Annie’s memory will as well.

Comments

  • jnewsham

    I don’t disagree (I don’t follow the case closely enough to have an opinion), but I’m pretty sure that 24-hour thing is a myth. http://bit.ly/oyxT21

  • kattrby

    You are right. This is a farrago.
    From the very earliest stage, from when Annie Le first went missing, her close family (which cannot include Vivian Le) has had to go through a succession of torments.
    They have been quiet, dignified, and brave through so many things. I ask you to accept that this is not rumour, not gossip, not blog stuff. They would put all of us to shame. I am not easily outfaced or humbled, but their courage and forbearance in loss is of a kind I cannot be sure I could find in myself.

    So when a cheapskate profiteer like Vivian comes along trying to get millions out of fake grief, I object. I really do object. It is just plain wrong. It goes badly against my view of life.

    And because the real family finds it so desperately difficult to speak, other people may have to stand up for them.

    Which is why I am glad you have taken a stand. It cannot reduce the essential sadness, but at least it may help to protect against further harm.

  • winteralfs

    while I agree parts of the lawsuit do seem frivolous, specifically, the linking of the crime to the title IX suit, you ignore the most potentially credible charge of the lawsuit. That Yale allowed a family to essentially run an entire department, including Clark reporting directly to his own brother in law, and that this environment cultivated a culture where researchers felt intimidated and/or bullied by the support staff. The most damning detail of all for Yale would be if its provable that Clark had existing complaints. So while I can not say myself whether those things are true, or provable in a court of law, I can see how the allegations are serious enough to at least warrant an investigation. As to a grieving family potentially having a delayed reaction to an injustice, that is not uncommon. Sometimes it takes years for the full impact of a crime to be felt, and the heat of the moment is not always the best time to judge one’s feelings. It is true that Annie’s immediate family seem to not be in favor of the suit, so that does hold great weight. Lastly, Yale’s reputation is not relevant here and should never be a factor in determining whether this or any other lawsuit goes forward. Spreading the idea that Annie’s reputation will somehow suffer, when in reality it is Yale who is worried about its own PR nightmare from this is disingenuous and heartless. Annie did nothing wrong here, she was the true victim, and having the charges investigated will not have a negative effect on her memory or reputation, Yale on the other hand…well time will tell …

    R.I.P Annie Le, you deserved so much more.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “random acts of evil”

    Evil implies intent. It is possible this person was mentally ill.

    We live in a debased age.
    When lawyers can advertise on TV as if hawking toothpaste; when doctors can endorse medical products on television and are paid to do so in their offices; when teachers can be bullied into treating students as if they were data-bases: Our country has lost its professional soul.

    The grotesque opportunism suggested as operating in this lawsuit should come as no surprise.
    Like mercantile ghouls, we feast on our living as well as our dead, sucking dollars and data from their veins.

    PK

  • River_Tam

    Maybe an employer should have access to a juvenile record, especially for serious offenses like sexual assault.

  • The Anti-Yale

    So Bill Clinton, DSK, and JFK should have been prevented from holding positions of authority and leadership because of their libidinous pasts, which should have appeared on employer evaluations as they moved through their careers?

    • River_Tam

      Did Bill Clinton, JFK, and DSK commit sexual assault? If so, then yes.

      (I note that the names you supplied are all those of liberal politicians)

  • joematcha

    @theantiyale there is a huge difference between sexual assault and being excessively lustful. It’s outrageous for you to equate the two. If BC, DSK and JFK had sexual assault on their records they definitely should have had that held against them until such time as they could show they could be trusted to respect those around them.

  • The Anti-Yale

    So using the glamour, money, authority, and prestige of your job (Presidents of the U.S.; President of the World Bank) to wow women into submission is NOT called sexual harassment?

    I am merely pointing out a double standard here:

    A teenage boy from an ordinary middle class family gets a police record because his unformed character is unable to restrain its libido. But two U. S. Presidents and a World Bank President with fully formed characters supposedly able to restrain their libidos, receive a “pass” by society, two after international scandals, the third after he has been apotheosized by assassination.

    C’mon.

    • River_Tam

      > So using the glamour, money, authority, and prestige of your job to wow women into submission is NOT called sexual harassment?

      Oh, it absolutely is. Chalk me up as someone who thinks Clinton got off too easy (no pun intended) for his repeated sexual harassment incidents (Broaddrick, Flowers, Lewinsky, Willey, and Jones). It was the “feminist” groups that saved him from that fate though – you can thank them later.

  • chris

    AntiYale, Actually the scenario you described is not sexual harassment. Women are not children, and merely attracting women with ones position of power is not a crime. Sexual harassment is using your power to bully or threaton a woman into a sexual encounter or make her otherwise engage in a sexual behavior that she can not avoid for fear of punishment. Also clark did not sexually harass annie le, he beat her, he sexually assualted her, he murdered her, and he desicrated her body. That is why he now has a criminal record.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I thought we were talking about the criminal record of a teen-ager whose character had not yet formed. And maybe if in addition to a criminal record we had insisted on counseling to help the teenager, that person would not have become a murderer.

    Louis H. Cohen, M.D., a psychiatrist on the Yale faculty, wrote a book entitled *Murder, Madness and the Law* in the early 1950′s which became the basis the insanity defense in our country. It is quite possible that the person now incarcerated for the murder of Ms. Le is mentally ill, even though the fashion is to portray him as a monster.

    *Using your power to “bully or threaten”?* So the unspoken “you are employed by me” and I want your favors is NOT bullying?

    Murky.

    • kattrby

      The basis of the law about mental illness, in murder cases and others, very often leads back to the M’Naghten Rules. They have weaknesses, but the essential question raised is “Did this person know that he/she was doing something wrong?” A basic attempt to distinguish those people who – perhaps in psychotic delusion – genuinely did not know that they were doing wrong.

      But Clark knew, and has said, that he did wrong. His defense made no attempt to introduce in mitigation any evidence of mental illness, past or present.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Just because he did not plead “insanity” does not mean he isn’t insane. No lawyer in his/her right mind would have advocated a trial in this matter. Can you imagine how Yale would have been torn apart? My hunch is that there was CRUSHING behind the scenes pressure to make this case disappear as soon as possible. It did.