Why Does Jameis Winston's Attorney Keep Naming Winston's Accuser?
John Clune said Friday that he is not surprised that the name of his client is still publicly posted on the Twitter account of Jameis Winston's attorney.
Earlier in the week, David Cornwell had posted a screen shot of an official document from Florida State that referred to a code of conduct hearing for the Seminoles quarterback originally scheduled for this week. It clearly showed the name of the woman accusing Winston of sexual assault.
Calling it a "juvenile bullying tactic" as well as "unprofessional and irresponsible," Clune told espnW.com, "Mr. Cornwell has put a lot of effort the last several months into getting her name out there. The irony is that it doesn't even benefit his client."
Indeed, Cornwell has taken a beating on the very same public forums he tried to use to his advantage.
"I think in general it's being very poorly received by everyone, and I think that can't have a positive effect for either Mr. Cornwell or Mr. Winston," Clune said. "So, in some aspect, it has already backfired."
Just the same, the original mention had been retweeted 373 times as of Monday morning, making it 373 times more likely -- and who's kidding whom, the reach is far greater than that -- that this woman will be imperiled and, just as dangerous, that victims will be scared to come forward in the future.
"This is chilling," said Sharmili Majmudar, executive of the Chicago-based Rape Victim Advocates. "This basically sends the message that even if the criminal justice system on the prosecutorial side and journalists are honoring [the commonly held policy not to name alleged victims of sexual assault], it doesn't matter. Twitter and Facebook are not journalism, and this gives the sense that defense attorneys can do anything."
The issue of accusers' names being used in court and in the media has been a topic of debate going back to the women's movement in the '70s. Before then, there was a belief that not using an accuser's name was depriving her of her voice. That idea was thankfully cast aside in favor of protecting accusers from being further victimized. By the early '90s, a federal rape shield law prohibited the use of cross-examination in rape cases to include an accuser's past sexual behavior. (There had been conversation about whether Cornwell's blatant, repeated use of the accuser's name could actually be illegal, but that's unlikely.)
Clearly, there are other ways to intimidate than brutal cross-examination, and the "outing" of alleged victims has been used with some regularity, particularly in high-profile cases, including the Kobe Bryant prosecution. In that case, Clune successfully sued Bryant in civil court in 2005, and Clune likely will pursue a civil case in the Winston case, as well.
Clune hopes Cornwell's publicizing of the accuser's name will not help in this upcoming FSU hearing (which Cornwell has requested be postponed so he can have more time to prepare the case) or in a civil case.
It is relevant to note that not all defense attorneys resort to such tactics. Gerry Boyle, who defended Mark Chmura, did not name the alleged victim, and neither did Mike Tyson's attorney, Vincent Fuller. And those were criminal trials -- remember, Winston has not been charged with sexual assault.
Cornwell did not return a call for comment. But recently he justified his actions by telling AL.com that Winston's confidentiality also should have been protected under Title IX provisions. The U.S. Department of Civil Rights is investigating whether FSU violated Title IX in its response to the alleged victim's accusations. Cornwell has publicized the accuser's name before, but he claims that he wasn't the first and that he is only protecting his client, who has yet to be charged with a crime in the December 2012 incident.
Beginning next week, however, Winston will have to defend himself against as many as four student conduct code violations, two of which are related to sexual misconduct. Of course, Cornwell knows what he's doing, and vilifying the accuser is a key strategy.
But victims advocates say it is a tactic with potentially horrible consequences. "What I want people to understand is that this goes far beyond who wins the case and that this is really about victims routinely getting harassed and threatened when their identity is known," Majmudar said.
Clune said his client will not be deterred.
"His tactics are not going to chase my client away," he said, "but as a society we really suffer from low reporting rates in any kind of violence against women. And a lot of times, this aggressive, retaliatory behavior by other men feeds on that. There are a lot of victims who are considering whether or not they are going to report their crimes."
And unfortunately, no end to the number of defense lawyers ready to make that experience all the more traumatic.