Judge Clears Way for Fraternity Members to Be Questioned in USU Rape Case
Following a motion filed by Salt Lake law firm Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson, a Federal Magistrate Judge has cleared the way for fraternity members at Utah State University to be questioned about sexual assault allegations involving one of its members.
by Kelsey Eisenberg
A U.S. Magistrate Judge from the Central District of Utah has allowed members of a Utah State University fraternity to be interviewed in connection to allegations made against one of its members, Jason Relopez. Victoria Hewlett alleges Relopez beat and raped her in July 2015 at the Kappa Gamma fraternity house. Relopez admitted to sexually assaulting Ms. Hewlett and another woman and pleaded guilty to first-degree-felony attempted rape and third-degree-felony forcible sexual abuse. Mr. Relopez was sentenced to 12 months in jail and has since been released.
A civil suit filed by Hewlett argues that Utah State University, the Sigma Chi fraternity and other defendants all have legal responsibility in connection with the assault. The fraternity attempted to prevent Ms. Hewlett’s attorneys from contacting all past and current members outside of formal depositions to discuss the facts of this case. Given a large number of fraternity members, requiring depositions could be prohibitively time consuming and expensive. The Court, citing several ethical rules governing lawyers, held that the fraternity could not block access to fraternity members unless they were officers of the fraternity at some time during Mr. Relopez’s tenure as a member or unless they had actually retained lawyers to represent them.
According to Jeffrey Eisenberg, counsel for Ms. Hewlett,
Sexual violence is a tragedy that is far too common on college campuses.
In this case
Ms.Hewlett alleged that Mr. Relopez had been reported to the University as an accused sexual predator, and that his violent tendencies were also known within the fraternity, but that no disciplinary action or prosecution was taken against him until after Mr. Hewlett was assaulted. The interviews authorized by the Court will be important to our efforts to learn more about who had concerns about Mr. Relopez before the assault and to learn more about how the Fraternity conducted its social activities.
The successful motion is a significant victory, not only for Hewlett and her attorneys, but also for USU students, as more information regarding what was known and what steps were taken following reports of assault can help identify failures in the handling of sexual violence allegations. Highlighting these failures, Hewlett and her attorneys agree, is essential to prompting policy changes that can better protect students.
Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson is a nationally recognized Salt Lake City-based law firm that has recovered millions of dollars in compensation on behalf of their clients.