Chapman University in Orange, Calif., on October 14, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Students at private universities who are accused of abuse will be given a chance to respond, but do not have a right to cross-examine their accuser, the California Supreme Court unanimously recently ruled.
The decision, handed down in a 7–0 vote by the state Supreme Court on July 31, stems from the University of Southern California’s 2017 decision to expel then-student and football player Matthew Boermeester after his then-girlfriend, identified in the case as Jane Roe, accused him of drunken violent assault.
The university conducted an investigation in which both parties gave statements. However, both declined to participate in a hearing in which they both could have submitted questions for the investigator to pose to the other.
The accuser later sought to withdraw her statements, claiming they were false—but the investigator found evidence of violence, and the university’s misconduct panel recommended Mr. Boermeester’s expulsion.
However, in 2020, the Second Appellate District ruled that the investigation and expulsion violated Mr. Boermeester’s right to a fair hearing because he couldn’t directly question his accuser.
That ruling has now been overturned by the California Supreme Court, where a judge argued that Mr. Boermeester had a chance to give his statement and was given the opportunity to indirectly question his accuser about any inconsistencies.
“Boermeester thus had the opportunity to submit questions to be asked of the most important witness — the person he allegedly hurt,” Chief Justice Joshua Groban wrote in a July 31 opinion
. “Moreover, USC, as the finder of fact, was entitled to determine that [the accuser’s] first statement was more credible than her later recantation.”
Judge Groban concluded that “[the university] was not required to provide Mr. Boermeester the opportunity to directly or indirectly cross-examine [the accuser] and other witnesses at a live hearing with Boermeester in attendance, whether in person or virtually.”
The Supreme Court of California in San Francisco. (Courtesy of the State of California)
The chief justice added that private universities are ill-equipped to function as courts and—unlike state universities—lack the subpoena power to require witnesses to appear in court.
However, he said, private colleges do have an obligation to provide accused students “notice of the charges and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” but a court-type hearing is not required.
Though passed in 2020 and after the incident in question, Judge Groban also noted state Senate Bill 493
—which details procedures that both public and private universities must use when dealing with incidents of abuse—does not require universities to conduct live hearings and cross-examinations of witnesses.
“Senate Bill 493 does not apply here since the incident itself and [the university’s] subsequent investigation of the incident occurred prior to Senate Bill 493’s effective date,” Mr. Groban wrote. “We nevertheless find it noteworthy that the statute does not require universities to conduct live hearings featuring cross-examination of the accuser and other witnesses.”
A spokesperson for the University of Southern California was not immediately available for comment.
Additionally, Mr. Boermeester could not be reached for comment.