Judge Ends Mockery at Chattanooga

Earlier this week, Tennessee Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy overturned the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s decision to brand one of its students, Corey Mock, a rapist. The case attracted an unusual amount of attention.

Mock had been a star wrestler for the UTC program. His accuser, Molly Morris, had gone public with her version of events at a left-of-center publication. And Mock’s father was fired from his position as University of North Carolina wrestling coach after starting a blog defending his son. UTC claimed that performance issues dictated the decision; the former coach plausibly contended that the university, center of some of the most extreme victims’ rights activism of any campus, retaliated for his position on his son’s allegations. The case is illustrative of three important trends in the contemporary debate: the significance of the “Dear Colleague” letter; the dangers of the “affirmative consent” standard; and the role of athletes.

You can read the decision here.

The specifics of the case are typical; the two students met through Tinder, a social media site, attended a party together, and had intercourse. Both had been drinking. Morris subsequently claimed that she had been drugged—with the implication that Mock had drugged her—but had no medical evidence to corroborate the claim. Six weeks later, Morris filed a sexual assault complaint through UTC’s system. But the administrative law judge who heard the case, Joanie Sompayrac, sided with Mock.

Before 2011, that would have been the end of the case. But the “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil rights required colleges to institute a de facto double jeopardy principle, and allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. Morris took advantage of this shift, and appealed to UTC chancellor Steven Angle. Angle made no decision, and instead asked the administrative law judge to reconsider the ruling. Sompayrac got the message, and on the basis of the same facts that led her to find Mock not guilty, she then branded him a rapist.

Mock appealed the new guilty finding to Chancellor Angle, but in December 2014, Angle denied the appeal. He did so, however, on a slightly different basis than had Sompayrac—perhaps because he recognized the weakness of a ruling that deemed a student guilty on the basis of the same 49 findings of fact that the same administrative law judge previously had used to find the student not guilty. Angle, for his part, argued that Mock had failed to prove that he had obtained affirmative consent—that is, that Mock, not UTC, had the burden of proof in the initial hearing. UTC hadn’t adopted a “yes means yes” policy, but Angle inferred it through various provisions in the school’s code, and in other writings.

In what appears to be the first decision by a judge confronting affirmative consent head-on, Judge McCoy expressed strong doubts that such a standard ever could be constitutional. UTC’s policy, she noted, “erroneously shifted the burden of proof” to Mock to prove his innocence. As a general rule, McCoy continued, “The ability of an accused to prove the complaining party’s consent strains credulity and is illusory.” How, she wondered, could Mock have defended himself? Through a secret video of the encounter? Such a policy, McCoy concluded, “is flawed and untenable if due process is to be afforded to the accused.”

Finally, one of the general claims about college disciplinary debates is that athletes receive special treatment. That’s undoubtedly true—for men’s basketball players and football players, in some circumstances, if they play for one of the top teams in the ACC, SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, or Pac-12, and if they’re good players. But the vast majority of college athletes are like Mock—participants in non-revenue producing sports. The idea that they receive favored treatment given the current ideological climate on campus, to borrow a phrase, strains credulity.

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.

7 thoughts on “Judge Ends Mockery at Chattanooga

  1. Using the term “victim’s rights” is not quite right here. These campus rape activists have nothing to do with the real victims’ rights movement, which works in real courts to address real leniency gifted to real criminals.

  2. A victory for due process. Sadly the SocJus cult and their pet politicians will simply double down on their efforts to entirely exclude the legal system entirely from campuses.

    1. If I had a son, I think I’d send him to UNLV with a monthly stipend and insist that, if he must, he see a pro.

      Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d have to assume the author of the US Dept of Education OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter (Russlyn Ali was it ?) was being paid under the table by the sex worker industry.

  3. “And Mock’s father was fired from his position as University of North Carolina wrestling coach after starting a blog defending his son. ” This may be the most disturbing sentence in a post that is not without several candidates.

    1. I agree with Chris wholeheartedly on this point.

      Here is something that also is disturbing to me. The “right” of a person to appeal a “not guilty” verdict for now is administrative and has not bled into modern courts of law, where double jeopardy is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.

      However, given the ability of the modern courts to use language to turn the meaning of laws upside down, one cannot help but wonder if double jeopardy is in our future. One would hope not, but I cannot help but wonder if at least some legal “scholars” see the whole lack of due process on college campuses for sex-related accusations as a good thing and that higher education is providing a “laboratory” for doing away with due process, First Amendment rights, and other rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

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