Origins of Le lawsuit murky

Although the estate of former pharmacology student Annie Le GRD ’13 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Yale last week, only some members of the family appear to actively support the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed last Tuesday in New Haven Superior Court, alleges that Yale failed to adequately screen Le’s killer, Raymond Clark III, when he was a candidate for employment as a lab technician. University spokesman Tom Conroy said in a statement that the complaint will do little to preserve Le’s memory or secure justice for the slain student. But when Vivian Le, Annie Le’s mother, appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” Friday morning alongside her lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, she said the suit is intended to teach Yale a lesson about student safety.

“I’m standing for my daughter, because I don’t want anybody to be killed like my daughter,” she told “Today Show” host Ann Curry. “She died for nothing; she died in vain, and I want Yale to protect the students. Yale had let [the murder] happen and you have to be responsible for that.”

But that sentiment appears to be far from universal in the Le family. In a Sept. 13, 2010, letter to the News, Pierson College alum Xuan Nguyen ’10 wrote that she had firsthand knowledge that the guardians who raised Le, Tuyet Bui and Robert Nguyen, and Le’s uncle, James Bui, had no interest in filing any lawsuit because “they would just rather let Annie rest in peace.” One of Le’s other uncles, Minh Nguyen , who lives in the San Diego , Calif., area, told the News last week that he is not involved in the suit in any way and would not comment on what he or other family members think of the complaint.

Vivian Le, Robert Nguyen, and James and Tuyet Bui did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Despite the apparent differences within the family, the suit and its proponents are pushing ahead aggressively. During the Friday interview on the “Today Show,” Tacopina said the federal government’s investigation into Yale’s possible violation of Title IX regulations shows that the University failed to provide a safe environment for women.

Tacopina was hired by Vivian Le to conduct an investigation into her daughter’s death last September, according to Brian King, a lawyer for Tacopina Seigel & Turano PC. King discussed the hiring with members of the media last September outside a routine hearing for Clark.

Clark pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault charges in exchange for a 44-year prison sentence in March. After that hearing, Tacopina told the New Haven Independent that the Le family had not decided whether to sue the University.

On Sept. 2, a New Haven probate court appointed Glorie Romaniello, an attorney from Waterbury’s Moynahan and Minnello, as administrator of Le’s estate. Tacopina is not licensed to practice law in Connecticut, but he is listed as an attorney with Moynahan and Minnello on the firm’s website.

Although it is unusual, it is not unheard of for an out-of-state family to ask for a specific estate administrator, New Haven trial attorney Raymond Kotulski told the News.

Kotulski added that he did not think it was atypical for Tacopina — who is a high-profile defense attorney — to bring a civil suit. Kotulski said that both types of cases require similar trial skills.

“A lot of times you don’t win on the actual law or the facts. You win on if people like you,” Kotulski said.

Three other attorneys who spoke with the News said that they do not believe Le’s estate will win its case unless the plaintiff can prove that Yale knew about Clark’s violent streak before he killed Le.

Although Clark had allegedly assaulted and threatened a high school girlfriend as a juvenile, he had no adult criminal record before he murderered Le.

University spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in a statement last week that “Yale had no information indicating that Raymond Clark was capable of committing this terrible crime.”

But during his “Today Show” appearance, Tacopina said that he may be able prove that Yale should have known Clark was a danger to others.

“They had other students and other lab employees who had made complaints about Ray Clark,” Tacopina said. “One of the problems is Ray Clark’s supervisor … was his brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law obviously was someone who was perhaps receiving complaints and didn’t act on them. Yale is responsible for that. They had prior notice about him.”

In addition to Tacopina, Paul Slager of the Stamford personal injury firm Silver Golub & Teitell is also representing the Le estate in its suit against Yale.

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