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Thompson & Horton Lawyers Accused of Asking 'Abusive' Questions to Plaintiffs in Baylor University Sex Assault Suit

Baylor University

Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Photo:Photo: Matthew Minard

Fifteen Jane Doe plaintiffs who sued Baylor University over its alleged mishandling of their sexual assault claims have said in a new court document that the university’s defense lawyers—from Thompson & Horton—asked abusive deposition questions that “attempt to brand a scarlet letter on someone unfortunate enough to be raped.”

In response, the defense team say they’ve treated the plaintiffs with respect, and don’t want to make the litigation experience unpleasant for the plaintiffs. But they added that Baylor has a right and responsibility to learn about the circumstances of the plaintiffs’ allegations.

“These depositions are Baylor’s first opportunity to learn what allegedly happened,” said an April 15 response by Baylor.

The outside counsel for Baylor handling the depositions include Thompson & Horton partners Holly McIntush and Lisa Brown and associate Ryan Newman. Brown and Newman declined to comment, and McIntush didn't respond to a request for comment before deadline.

This is just the newest public relations snafu arising from discovery in the case, Doe v. Baylor University, pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Waco. It comes on the heels of the university and its former law firm, Pepper Hamilton, provided notice they had produced documents, after losing an earlier battle over whether they had to give up a trove of records related to the firm’s investigation into sexual assault on campus and 2016 report that noted the university failed at many levels in handling allegations.

“The fact they were assaulted goes to damages, but the play-by-play of the sexual assault, I don’t see it has any relevance to anything,” said plaintiffs lawyer Jim Dunnam of Dunnam & Dunnam in Waco. “Asking these questions at all is reprehensible, and I don’t think there’s an appropriate way to ask a woman what she was wearing that contributed to her own fault, or questions of the race of the assailant, or how far he penetrated you.”

The allegations of abusive depositions are buried in an April 9 response to Baylor’s motion to compel the plaintiffs to produce certain records. Some questions have asked about plaintiffs’ communications “that Baylor deems as prurient” and have nothing to do with the case but are meant to “belittle, harass, and further traumatize” the plaintiffs. Opposing counsel say the depos are forcing the women to relive minuscule details of their assaults.

Read the filing here.

The response provides a list of alleged abusive questions, delving into things like how deeply the assailant’s penis penetrated a plaintiff, how a plaintiff’s shorts fit her, whether lights were on or doors were closed to bedrooms, whether plaintiffs were crying, what assailants said to them and asking, “What happened when he was done?”

“Because Baylor has admitted its Title IX policies and procedures were deficient and required no fewer than 105 remedial actions, Baylor has no other defense to this case other than to accuse all 15 of these plaintiffs as liars and attempt to send a message that continuation of this lawsuit will result in further trauma,” said the response, which argued the plaintiffs have complied with discovery and the court shouldn’t allow further abuse by ordering the release of minutiae.

But Baylor’s April 15 reply argued the plaintiffs haven’t fully produced Facebook messages, texts and more. Regarding the depo questions, it says the plaintiffs seek substantial damages, and that issues about whether and how the alleged assaults occurred and the reporting of the incidents to Baylor are at the heart of the case. Baylor is allowed to explore mitigating and aggravating factors, it said.

“Baylor is entitled to inquire about the evidence and different statements plaintiffs made over time,” said the response, “Baylor has treated plaintiffs with respect and will continue to do so.”

Read the response here.