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Judge orders file unsealed in sexual assault lawsuit involving men's soccer player

<p>The judge ruled Wednesday that there is no constitutionally sufficient reason to justify sealing the complaint.</p>

The judge ruled Wednesday that there is no constitutionally sufficient reason to justify sealing the complaint.

A judge in Durham Superior Court ruled Wednesday that the complaint in a lawsuit filed by a men’s soccer player accused of sexual assault should be unsealed.

The Chronicle asked Judge Orlando Hudson to unseal the file from the civil case, which was submitted by the player after a University panel found him responsible for sexual assault and he was suspended for six semesters. The player is alleging that Duke violated its own procedures in handling his case, a claim the University denied during a court session Wednesday. 

WRAL was able to obtain a copy of the complaint before it was sealed last week, and it reported that the student bringing the case was a soccer player from the United Kingdom. There is only one player on the men's soccer roster from the United Kingdom—sophomore midfielder Ciaran McKenna.

After WRAL’s reporting, Duke filed a motion to seal the complaint.

Although the original complaint only refers to the student accused of sexual assault and his accuser by pseudonyms, lawyers for the University said that it referred to students on undergraduate conduct boards by name. John Bussian, The Chronicle’s lawyer, argued that in similar cases with sensitive information, complaints have been available to the public.

"Duke seeks to protect the confidentiality of student disciplinary hearings, including the identities of the students involved," the University’s motion read.

During the Wednesday hearing, lawyers for the University said that they would not object to unsealing the complaint if all student names were redacted from it. But Judge Hudson found this position to be untenable and ruled that there is no compelling, constitutionally sufficient reason to justify sealing or redacting the complaint. 

The complaint will be unsealed after an order is drafted and signed by the judge, and Hudson ordered that the original suit papers be returned to the court file and provided to The Chronicle.

"I was glad to hear of the judge's ruling," said Peggy Krendl, chair of the Duke Student Publishing Company board of directors, which is responsible for financial and business oversight of The Chronicle. "The Chronicle strives to provide the Duke community with fair and accurate news. Without access to information, our journalists cannot do their job for their community."

The student who brought the case has alleged that Duke violated its own policy when the Office of Student Conduct allegedly created a new undergraduate conduct board to rehear his case after an appeal.

According to his lawsuit as reported by WRAL, the first panel found him responsible by concluding that the female student had not given consent while also saying that she had not verbally denied consent.  But, according to the complaint, the second panel found that the player's accuser had in fact verbally denied consent as well.