Florida St faces lawsuit from Winston sexual assault accuser

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Posted: Jan 08, 2015 5:06 PM
Florida St faces lawsuit from Winston sexual assault accuser

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual assault is suing the school's board of trustees.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Orlando. It requests a jury trial on claims the board had an unreasonable response to her accusations and created a hostile educational environment for her.

Also Wednesday, Winston declared his intention to enter the NFL draft.

At a student code of conduct hearing last month, Winston was cleared of charges that he violated any or all of four sections of the code of conduct — two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment. A criminal investigation concluded last year without charges being filed.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the university to be established at trial.

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Answers to questions about the lawsuit:

Q. WHAT MUST SHE PROVE?

The woman must show that Florida State did not follow its own guidelines and promptly alert its Title IX coordinator of a possible violation.

Florida State previously said the only authorities aware of the incident before January 2013 were Tallahassee police, campus police and the Victims Advocate Program. The university said its Title IX officials didn't become aware of the incident until November 2013, when contacted by the Tallahassee Police Department and that the woman was not made available for an interview with the school until Aug. 6, 2014. The woman's lawyers have maintained that she was willing to talk throughout the process.

The university said because the Victims Advocate Program continued to have "confidential interactions" with the woman for months, it was "duty-bound not to share any of the information with FSU Title IX officials."

Department of Education guidelines state that a university must conduct an investigation once it learns of an incident regardless of whether a complaint is filed or not and "a law enforcement investigation does not relieve the school of its independent Title IX obligation to investigate the conduct."

Q. WHY WAS IT FILED TO A FEDERAL COURT IN ORLANDO?

The suit was filed to federal court because it deals with a possible Title IX violation, which is a federal amendment. The filing claims Orlando is the proper venue because she cannot receive a fair and impartial trial by jury "in any other judicial district in which venue would be proper." Tallahassee does have a federal court.

"(Florida State) can request a venue transfer," said Tampa-based attorney Kristin Melton, who has experience in NCAA legal cases. "The incidents occurred in Tallahassee. The strong argument would be that it should have been filed in Tallahassee. That would be my position if I was FSU, and I would try to get it transferred to Tallahassee. It would really be her burden of showing that she couldn't get a fair and impartial hearing in Tallahassee."

Q. WHAT DOES FLORIDA STATE FACE IF FOUND AT FAULT?

The lawsuit seeks "damages in amounts to be established at trial, including ... reimbursement and prepayment for all of (the woman's) tuition and related expenses; ... expenses incurred as consequence of the sexual assault; damages for deprivation of equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities provided by FSU; and damages for past, present and future emotional pain and suffering, ongoing and severe mental anguish, loss of past, present and future enjoyment of life, and past and present lost earnings and earning capacity."

There is no cap on damages in federal court.

Q. WHAT IS THE BURDEN OF PROOF?

It is the woman's responsibility to prove her case, though there is no beyond-a-reasonable-doubt edict that is the standard in criminal court. The jury must come to a unanimous decision using a preponderance of evidence — which is the basic belief that the woman's claim is more likely to be accurate than the university's version of the events.

"It really is dependent upon whether or not FSU met its obligation under the statute, regardless of the credibility of the victim," said New York-based attorney Jim Ryan, an expert on Title IX compliance. "If FSU is found to have met its obligations under Title IX, the case is over."

Q. WHEN SHOULD A RULING BE EXPECTED?

The case could last more than a year depending on the court's schedule, evidence gathering, motions filed and other trial specifics.

Q. WHAT ABOUT WINSTON?

The woman can still file civil charges against Winston.

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Associated Press reporter Kyle Hightower in Orlando contributed to this report.