With AG investigation ongoing, judge in PBS lawsuit raises concerns over settlement

by Coalter Palmer | 10/25/19 2:15am


The New Hampshire attorney general's office is still investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against three former psychological and brain sciences professors.

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

A criminal investigation that began nearly two years ago into the alleged sexual misconduct of three former psychological and brain sciences professors is still ongoing, according to the office of New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald ’83. Meanwhile, a federal judge recently expressed concerns about the proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought by several former students against the College charging that Dartmouth failed for several years to act on allegations of misconduct against the former professors.

Beyond acknowledging that the investigation was still in progress, the attorney general’s communications director Kate Spinner said the office was unable to comment further on the matter.

Charles Douglas, a Concord attorney who served as local counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, cited the large scope of the case as the likely reason the investigation has lasted as long as it has.

“Because [the investigation] involves multiple women and multiple professors, it probably is a much more time-consuming project than would otherwise be the case,” Douglas said. “I don’t know long [the investigation] will continue, but if it went another year that wouldn’t surprise me.”

According to Douglas, who also served as local counsel for the sexual misconduct case against St. Paul’s School that made national headlines in 2015, the attorney general had two precedents to go by involving institutions: the St. Paul’s case, in which the New Hampshire attorney general found evidence of child endangerment against the school, and the 2002 Manchester Diocese sexual misconduct scandal, in which 60 priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors over a span of 40 years. The attorney general similarly found evidence of child endangerment in its investigation of the diocese’s handling of these accusations.

Investigations into St. Paul’s School and the Manchester Diocese lasted 10 months and six months, respectively, at which point the terms of a settlement were agreed upon. The attorney general investigation into misconduct at Dartmouth, which was announced on Oct. 31, 2017, will be entering its 25th month next week.

In the attorney general’s settlement with St. Paul’s, the school was not required to pay monetary fines, but MacDonald announced that, among other terms, the school would be required to have an independent compliance overseer “on campus to monitor how they are handling cases of sexual assault” for five years, according to Douglas. The diocese’s settlement similarly stipulated that the church would be subject to yearly compliance audits by the attorney general’s office. Douglas said the case of the Manchester diocese was “unprecedented” at the time.

The outcome of the attorney general’s investigation into the diocese was similarly unprecedented, as, according to the New York Times, the New Hampshire church was the “first diocese to settle a criminal case.”

In August, Dartmouth reached a $14 million settlement with plaintiffs in the federal class action lawsuit, which was filed in November 2018, but the attorney general’s office can still pursue criminal charges in response to the allegations of misconduct and institutional negligence.

Federal district court Judge Landya McCafferty, who has presided over the lawsuit, recently stated in a preliminary hearing for the proposed settlement that she sees “positive” momentum behind the settlement. However, she also expressed concern that the class outlined in the settlement, which includes financial compensation for all female students who worked under the professors involved in the scandal, is “too broad,” according to a report of court proceedings by the Valley News.

Diana Whitney ’95, co-founder of the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence advocacy group, said that it is important that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought forward their stories, and she expressed displeasure with the judge’s statements on the settlement.

“Speaking as an advocate, I was disappointed to read that update ... and I very much hope that this doesn’t stop the settlement moving forward,” Whitney said.

Of the ongoing investigation, Whitney said she believes the that the three professors must be held accountable.

“My hope absolutely would be that the perpetrators of these abuses in [the psychological and brain sciences department] would be found guilty and held accountable for repeated sexual assaults of up to nine students in their departments,” Whitney said.