We previously discussed the lawsuit against Case Western and former dean (and former George Washington law professor) Lawrence Mitchell. Mitchell has been accused of retaliating against his former associate dean Raymond Ku, including suggestions of three-some trysts with students and administrators. Ku’s allegations have been affirmed by a former administrator who came with Mitchell to Case Western from GWU, Daniel Dubé. There are also unnamed faculty and students referenced in the complaint. [For Dubé’s affidavit, click here] Mitchell later resigned but pledged to remain as a faculty member at Case Western. At the time, I discussed Mitchell’s options as limited but suggested that “he would be marketable at corporate law firms where these allegations may be viewed as less of a problem, particularly if he goes to New York.” Well, he has now announced that he is indeed in leaving in a blog posting entitled “Leaving Egypt” . . . for New York.
The news of Mitchell’s departure was mentioned in a long investigative report by the local media, a story that is both brutal toward Mitchell and Case Western President Barbara Synder.
What is sad is that the article discusses the many positive things that Mitchell did as dean. He started out quite strong with innovative ideas and an energetic outreach to donors and alumni. Mitchell is an excellent writer with an impressive list of academic work in his area of corporate law. He was well on his way to a successful deanship at a school that badly needed such a leader.
As a litigator, it is the type of expose that you fear in litigation. It deals scenes of Mitchell getting drunk at parties and propositioning students as well as scenes of Mitchell making out with young girls at grocery stores and other public events. It also refers to an alleged picture of Mitchell making out at such a party. Dubé adds more details including being used by Mitchell to separate female staff from their dates to allow Mitchell to allegedly try to pick them up.The article is quite detailed, including students who give measured but ultimately damaging accounts like “To be quite frank, it would not be inaccurate to describe him as a dirty old man, but that said, there’s nothing wrong with being a dirty old man as long as you are able to keep that in an appropriate setting.” Likewise, a female law student recounts how she ran into Mitchell with a young girl at a Cleveland Heights grocery store: “I was like, ‘Oh, cute he’s with his daughter.’ But then he starts making out with her in the meat section.” One student correctly notes that this is a smaller legal community and Mitchell may have not appreciated how transparent you are as a dean at a leading local school. However, it is not clear that these public accounts of amorous conduct with young women involved law students or staff. Indeed, they remain unproven and anonymous. The identity of such women is likely to be added to the discovery demands — presenting even greater problems in damage control for the defense. However, this is a case about harassment and retaliation. The plaintiffs will have to establish that nexus. Yet, given the underlying claims and alleged cause for the harassing conduct, discovery will necessary delve into these allegations.
In the meantime, Mitchell’s lawyers are trying to get the judge reversed on a discovery order. They previously tried unsuccessfully to strike portions of the complaint. I noted at the time that such motions are highly doubtful in a case like this and tend to not only alienate the court but send the wrong message on the concerns over the allegations. The motion was predictably denied. The current motion to limit discovery is equally questionable. Appellate courts are very reluctant to second guess such matters and very rarely reverse such orders. This is not the type of strategy that one would expect if you wanted to get to trial and win on the merits. Frankly, it is the type of strategy you often see from large companies or government agencies to wear down litigants in hope for a settlement or abandonment of the litigation. However, it could also be simply highly aggressive litigation and a view that Mitchell has nothing to lose in seeking to curtail the case. Moreover, Mitchell is known for joking about sexual matters and the jury could well find that many of these references statements were simply bawdy humor. Additionally, the accounts of Mitchell being seen making out with young women does not confirm that they were either staff or students. There remains much that still remains to establish in discovery. Mitchell insists that this remains a case of disgruntled and hostile former colleagues and staff. He has reaffirmed his intention to prevail in court in disproving these allegations.
In his blog, Mitchell compares himself to Moses with a picture of Jews escaping from Egypt after Moses divided the Red Sea. He relates a conversation that he had with a Rabbi and how he felt like this was a place of oppression for him. He describes Cleveland as “a place for me of pain, of disillusionment, of disappointment.” He announced that “I’ve been thinking a lot about it and about where I’m going – to my own promised land.”