A Black Eye for Brown In a Controversial Rape Case

I’ve written before of the peculiar case of Brown and
Marcella Dresdale
. In 2006, Dresdale accused another Brown freshman, William
McCormick, of sexual assault. But she didn’t go the local police, and she never
filed charges. Instead, she went to the Brown administration–over which, it
turned out, her father Richard, a major Brown donor, exercised considerable
influence. After a prosecution-friendly process in which McCormick’s only
advocate was an assistant wrestling coach, McCormick accepted what amounted to
a plea bargain, and agreed to leave Brown. The university never formally
investigated Dresdale’s charges.

There matters might have ended, but McCormick and his family
decided to file a federal suit against both Dresdales and Brown. Their basic
claim: that Brown had railroaded McCormick to accommodate the demands not of
justice but of a major donor.

The case meandered its way through various courts and judges
until this summer, but recently a district court had upheld McCormick’s
discovery demands–related to what sort of communication between the Dresdales
and Brown administrators about the case. It seems that the Dresdales really
didn’t want McCormick and his attorneys to get access to this material. On Wednesday,
the Dresdales and the McCormicks announced that they had reached an
out-of-court settlement.

As is customary in such matters, terms weren’t released,
though the fact that the development came so close on the heels of the
discovery order gives a good sense of which side prevailed. The settlement
also, ironically, proved the McCormicks’ claims that Brown effectively acted
not as an institution of higher learning but as an agent of the Dresdales. The
settlement’s terms preclude the McCormicks not only from suing the Dresdales
but also from suing Brown–even though Brown wasn’t officially a party to the
settlement negotiations. It appears that Richard Dresdale was willing to offer
more money to shield the school from the sunlight of discovery. Brown’s spokesperson,
however, issued an Orwellian statement about how, regardless of the apparent
cover-up and Brown’s fierce attempts to prevent the McCormicks from getting
access to data about the school’s decisionmaking process, “the university stood ready at all times during this
litigation to prove in court that it had acted appropriately and in accordance
with applicable laws, policies and procedures.”

A final point, on coverage of the case. Kudos to Bloomberg
, whose article on the settlement references the Dresdales by name.
Contrast that approach with the Laura Crimaldi of the Associated Press, whose
article never uses the Dresdales’ name
and instead explains that a settlement
was reached between McCormick, his family, and “his
accuser and her father
.” (This shielding policy even prevents the AP
from referencing the name of the case, McCormick
v. Dresdale.
) Again: Marcella Dresdale never filed charges. She appears
never to have gone to a hospital for a rape examination. Her father paid out an
undisclosed sum of money to prevent documents regarding Brown’s handling of the
case from coming to light. And yet the AP believes that she’s still entitled to
the cloak of anonymity?


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

4 thoughts on “A Black Eye for Brown In a Controversial Rape Case

  1. This settlement came over five years after the controversy arose in September 2006. The suit brought by the young victim–McCormick–was stalled at every possible turn. For you lawyers out there just think: They were still battling over the scope of Discovery! This was not complex litigation! All discovery should have been completed in a few months. This is what power lawyers (for the Dresdales, and Brown University) do to the little guy who sues. They know you can’t keep it up as long as they can. Some of you are assuming McCormick won a lot of money. I doubt he got a cent; at best some portion of his family’s huge attorney bill might have been paid. Nor did he get his name cleared, which no doubt was his most important objective. The young woman has graduated and taken up a career in the financial services industry. She never had to appear in court or suffer any hardship at all. Yet they refer to this as a “Justice System.” Brown University has certainly never apologized for its handling of the McCormick case. And recently heartily welcomed the new U.S. Department of Education requirements for adjudicating student rape cases on the weak preponderance of evidence standard of proof (with no cross-examination of the female accuser permitted). There will be McCormick victims to come; and some of the will wish they COULD just get a plane ticket home and the cover story of having withdrawn from school for medical reasons…. (which is what had been offered McCormick, under conditions of great duress).

  2. The tragedy here is that the McCormicks accepted the money. The victim (William McCormick) had a college degree and could have, and should have, stood for all other victims. Marcella Dresdale learned that daddy’s money will get her out of anything. Brown University has bashed male students, and given their statement, will continue to do so.
    A good laundering in the public press would have gotten William more, and left a precedent and a legacy for all the other young men on every campus who are now automatically guilty of everything and anything they are accused of doing.

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