Law student banned from reporting


Student sanctioned for possessing confidential admissions information





FLORIDA — A University of Miami honor court has disciplined a student newspaper editor for possessing confidential school records and attempting to write a story on affirmative action.

Last March, David Scott, then a second year law student, was found guilty by the honor court of having “received, perused and disseminated confidential … files and information about minority and majority students.”

Scott’s claim that he was acting as a journalist for the student paper Res Ipsa Loquitur was dismissed by the school official reviewing his case.

In September 1995, Scott found 40 pages of confidential student records from the admissions office in his school mailbox. The anonymous package appeared after he wrote an article in the student newspaper criticizing minority-exclusive summer prep programs.

The documents purportedly show lenient admission standards for African-American students at the school. According to Scott, while negotiations for the documents was occurring, Dean Rose escalated the emotions of the minority community by claiming Scott was “going to release the names and LSAT scores of all black students.” Concerned students then held a unity rally. Scott claims minority leaders, with the school’s encouragement, tried to shift the issue away from affirmative action by focusing on the incident as an invasion of privacy.

At the rally, incensed classmates and professors called Scott a “right-wing bigot” intent on disparaging minority students. Scott denies being a racist and claims confidentiality was always a concern.

“The newspaper had no intention of printing any of the names listed on the documents,” he said.

In announcing its guilty findings, the honor court cited Scott’s unwillingness to work with the school investigator as an aggravating factor in their ruling (a criticism Scott denies). After the decision, Scott and his student advocate officially appealed. In August, Professor Mary Doyle acting in lieu of the dean who has “final review and sanction,” rejected his appeal.

The official sanction Scott received provides that he “not be allowed to be in a position to create the kind of harm he caused….” The punishment “banishes Mr. Scott from participation in Law School Community life and is intended to convey the judgment that he is not a proper representative of the student body of the law school.”

Scott cannot hold any club office or participate in student activities or contests. Besides writing for the student newspaper, he was president of the school’s Federalist Society and a founding member of the Second Amendment Society. According to Scott, the editor of the student newspaper cannot run any of his submissions. Letters to the editor are only allowed if they pertain to previously published stories.

Dean Rose would not comment on Scott’s case specifically. When asked if, in general, it was fair for the school to restrict student speech and press liberties as a punishment, Rose said that while “students have the right of free speech, they also have to be in compliance with standards independent [of that right].”

“There is nothing I can do to speak out or defend myself short of getting on a soapbox in the middle of campus,” Scott said.

The dean also placed a letter explaining Scott’s honor code violation and a copy of his sanctions in his permanent file. This information will be sent to any bar to which Scott seeks admission.

In announcing the school’s agreement with the honor court’s findings, Doyle said, “…[Scott’s] actions were not motivated…by malice, but rather by a misguided belief that in possessing the documents he was acting in further istic objectives….”

In September Scott wrote a letter to fellow students explaining his side oat in their sanction, the school is adding insult to injury by “…denying me the right to free speech.”

Scott says he thinks most students do not know exactly what is going on with his case. “Most students seem silent on the issue. But from those willing to speak out, I have received a lot of support.” He added, “most people know in their minds about the promise of free speech, and they know the school’s actions smack of censorship.”

He said he is convinced the law school thinks it can “violate [my] First Amendment right just because they are a private institution.” According to Scott, even the undergraduate newspaper, the Hurricane, has been given free press protection through a university policy.

To silence him, Scott says the school even offered a transfer to the University of California at Berkley for a final year of law school in exile. Scott explained that “that would look great on my record.” But the determined student is convinced his place is in Miami.

“It’s a matter of principle now. The school’s actions are totally unacceptable.”

Now in his final year of classes, Scott is considering options to try the matter in public courts. He says he has a group of lawyers who would like to sue the school. Scott also said he has spoken with the American Civil Liberties Union and they may be interested in using his grievance with the school as a test case.

Now that his honor court case is over and the appeal was denied, Scott has been freed by his lawyers to talk about the case. He has been anxious to do so. During the honor code trial, Scott was contacted by ABC News and the television show “60 Minutes” for an interview, both of which he was advised to decline. “But now, with he case over,” Scott said “there is nothing more the University can do to me.”


reports, Winter 1996-97