Does Your Client Need a Title IX Specialist?
For college students, fall semester is often an exciting time, with highlights that range from new friendships and freedoms to football games and fraternity parties. Unfortunately, the first three months of the school year are also a period when risks escalate and allegations of sexual assault and misconduct surge. Lawyers call it the red zone. The red zone can be a perilous time on campus for any student. For those facing allegations of sexual misconduct, the need to find a skilled advocate who specializes in campus disciplinary defense is more urgent than ever. While protections under Title IX increased during the past decade, they are fast eroding. Final revisions to Title IX regulations made by the Biden administration are expected to strengthen protections for accusers when released this fall. Upping the stakes is the fact that widespread media attention, the #MeToo movement, and a polarizing national debate has led many colleges and universities to take an increasingly aggressive approach to pursuing accusers’ claims. “In such a charged environment, it is easy for schools to ignore the right to due process of students accused of misconduct under Title IX,” cautions Andrew Miltenberg, a partner at Nesenoff & Miltenberg. Colleges and universities are often so eager to demonstrate their support for victims of sexual violence that they lose their impartiality: They automatically perceive accusers as victims and overlook the possibility that those facing discipline may be victims of false accusations. Without an experienced legal advocate who specializes in Title IX to protect their right to due process, the accused is unlikely to receive fair or equitable treatment. They may never be given a chance to defend themselves or to cross-examine their accuser. Due process is often a student’s only protection against the life-shattering ramifications of a misconduct case, from suspension to expulsion. Even if an investigation ends in their favor, many students find that accusations follow them throughout their time in college and far beyond, damaging their career prospects and their future.
Navigating the Minefield
Compounding the problem is the fact that while investigations may take months, accusers and their supporters frequently use popular social media platforms to condemn their target in the court of public opinion long before an official finding is reached. Accusations get conflated with proof on social media, and students accused of misconduct are often devastated to find that they are no longer seen as innocent until proven guilty. They are excoriated online in anonymous posts. As a result, their mental health and even their physical safety is jeopardized. “Once the defamation rumor mill starts, it can destroy a student’s reputation overnight,” warns Miltenberg. Without a legal team experienced in Title IX to champion their cause, they will have no way to combat the damaging information spreading on social media. What’s more, his firm sees an emerging trend among colleges and universities to enlist former sex crimes prosecutors and former members of law enforcement to lead sophisticated and detailed investigations yielding reports hundreds of pages long. Because investigations under Title IX are not criminal proceedings, the reports are not privileged, he says. The facts of Title IX cases are supposed to be confidential, but if an accuser shares information from a report or posts it on social media, college and universities seldom enforce confidentiality for fear of being accused of silencing victims. The most common response to an accusation under Title IX is panic. Not surprisingly, students are often too embarrassed to tell their parents. They may fail to realize the severity of the situation or delay telling anyone for fear of being banned from fall activities on campus. Their instinct may be to tell their side of the story to friends or roommates, not realizing that their comments can result in further charges being leveled against them. Many are naïve enough to think they can manage the process by calling the Title IX office, unaware that everything they say is on the record and that Title IX cases can easily escalate to criminal and civil suits. “Thinking you can handle the situation on your own is a tremendous mistake, but it’s very common,” Miltenberg says.
Why Experience Matters
The smartest move a student facing sexual assault or misconduct allegations can do is to seek legal help. However, Title IX cases are a highly specialized area, with the proceedings falling into a legal gray zone. Event brilliant lawyers who specialize in other areas of law lack the expertise required to navigate the intricacies of Title IX investigations on college campuses. Complicating matters is a complete lack of consistency among schools in terms of procedure, precedent, and penalties. “Each school has a very different history of dealing with these types of cases, which heightens the need for an experienced legal team that has dealt with similar situations,” says Miltenberg.
Nesenoff & Miltenberg is one of a select few boutique law firms that specialize exclusively in the area of Title IX, due process, and campus misconduct violations. The firm has handled cases involving more than 100 institutions of higher learning in almost all 50 states and has extensive knowledge of the prior findings and precedents set on campuses. As nationally recognized experts in advocating for due process and the rights of accused students, Nesenoff & Miltenberg is widely known and well respected in the world of higher education. The firm’s name has currency at universities across the U.S.
“Because we focus exclusively on this niche, we provide a valuable resource to top law firms who refer their clients to us for Title IX matters,” Miltenberg explains. “We provide guidance, support, and peace of mind for both top law firms and their clients without the threat of competition on other legal matters.”
While Nesenoff & Miltenberg believes unconditionally that sexual assault is unacceptable under any circumstances, the firm’s expert team are strong advocates with a proven track record of protecting the legal rights of students accused of misconduct under Title IX.