by: Brooks Kubena
Lawmakers directed their frustrations and questions about LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct cases at the university’s top attorney for nearly two hours in a state Senate committee hearing Thursday — a public meeting in which the lawmakers had expected to question 10 university officials who mostly sent in written statements instead.
Winston DeCuir, LSU’s general counsel, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children. He repeated his explanation that the invited officials were absent because the university is facing a lawsuit from an athletic department employee over issues they would have talked about at the hearing.https://2327971310f5cc8a4e21426b2bc1fbb3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Associate athletic director Sharon Lewis filed that lawsuit on Thursday morning, claiming she had been retaliated against for years after trying to report sexual harassment allegations that she received from students involving former football coach Les Miles.
The lawsuit is going to be a “messy affair,” DeCuir said, adding that “I believe we can defend it successfully.”
But lawmakers pushed back on DeCuir’s explanation of the LSU leaders’ absence. They tried to nail down which LSU officials had not intended to attend even before the university learned that a lawsuit was coming.
State Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, said the committee had already received statements from some LSU officials, including executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry and football coach Ed Orgeron, before attorneys representing Lewis announced their news conference on Tuesday.
Freeman said those employees “weren’t planning to come, with or without a lawsuit.”
DeCuir said Board of Supervisors members James Williams and Remy Starnes were planning on coming, along with the board’s executive director, Jason Droddy. Committee members pressed DeCuir on whether other LSU employees, such as athletic director Scott Woodward, intended to appear.
DeCuir declined to answer on their behalf. He told the lawmakers he understood his letter preventing people from testifying creates a perception that LSU is now going to stop cooperating with inquiries, and he said “that’s just not the case.”
“I don’t expect you to agree with me,” DeCuir said. “I’m the general counsel, and my job is defending the school.”
The only person who was asked to testify who didn’t send in a written statement was Williams. State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, noted that Williams is the chair of the search committee for LSU’s next president and said it’s “disappointing” to not get a response from Williams when he’s in that role.
DeCuir said Williams didn’t submit a letter by the Tuesday deadline because he was still preparing for his in-person testimony that day when LSU caught wind of Lewis’ lawsuit.
The hearing was the committee’s third since LSU publicly released the sweeping report into its handling of sexual misconduct cases done by law firm Husch Blackwell.
Although letters sent to the committee are considered testimony, it is typical for LSU officials to appear in person when requested, given that the Legislature oversees and votes on budget issues that affect higher education. As state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, noted, lawmakers who had further questions were not able to ask them of those who don’t appear.
Committee members repeated their disapproval from previous hearings that LSU has not done more in punishing those who were directly associated with the problems in the university’s reporting of and inaction on sexual misconduct cases.
Ausberry and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar — the only two employees whom LSU punished following the Husch Blackwell report — have since returned to work after serving suspensions.
“I don’t know how much plainer we can be,” said Barrow, who chairs the committee. “There are people there now … who some of them are in the same positions. That is a problem.”
DeCuir said LSU Associate Dean of Students Jonathan Sanders, who last week was temporarily stopped from overseeing decisions about punishing students and organizations found responsible for infractions on campus, was “still on campus” but now “has different responsibilities.”
State Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, called into the hearing and asked DeCuir if the law firm Taylor Porter would be working with LSU on its future Title IX reviews or any other work.
The law firm has represented LSU since the 1930s, but several university board members want to fire Taylor Porter after learning it advised a small group of university leaders to not inform most of the board about Miles’ alleged improper behavior with female students.
DeCuir said the law firm is not involved with any of LSU’s Title IX work. As for any other future work, he said “the lawyer in me is going to refrain from questions about our defense counsel.”
Several lawmakers had already expressed disapproval over the letters LSU officials sent instead of testifying.
Barrow called Orgeron’s decision “troubling” in a statement late Tuesday. She said his written testimony doesn’t help get to the bottom of what happened in a 2017 incident in which Mercedes-Benz Superdome security employee Gloria Scott alleges that former LSU football player Derrius Guice sexually harassed her.
Scott’s attorney, Karen Truszkowski, testified in a phone call on Thursday and said Scott, now 74, has received intense blowback since she came forward at the committee’s last hearing.
At a previous hearing, Scott testified through tears that Guice approached her with several other young men. Guice told her, “I want you to f*** me” and touched himself, she said. Scott also told the committee that Orgeron later tried to defuse the incident by calling her and asking her to forgive Guice. Her granddaughter seconded that account in an interview with USA Today, saying she recognized Orgeron’s distinctive Cajun “frog voice.”https://2327971310f5cc8a4e21426b2bc1fbb3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Orgeron has denied talking to Scott. His letter to the committee said he spoke with an unknown man in 2017 who said a woman who had been “disrespected” by Guice wanted the star running back kept out of the upcoming Citrus Bowl. Orgeron said he told the man he’d get back to him and ultimately decided he was not prepared to suspend Guice.
Audio recordings, text messages and police reports show that a New Orleans youth basketball coach, Cleavon Williams, a friend of Scott’s, told athletic department officials in 2017 that Scott would go public with her story if the university did not pay her $100,000 or keep Guice out of the Citrus Bowl.
Scott told The Advocate and Times-Picayune that she did not authorize Williams to demand money from LSU. Truszkowski told the committee Thursday that Scott doesn’t regret coming forward with her testimony even in the face of the blowback, but she has been second-guessing because of the way she is perceived.
“She only came forward because she wanted change,” Truszkowski said. “She wanted other students to be protected. That was her only motivation. She was not looking for money. She was not looking for adoration. She was looking to help people.”