DA urges school to settle suits

Updated: February 13, 2004, 9:16 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Hoping to end the firestorm surrounding the University of Colorado, a prosecutor with ties to the case urged the school Thursday to settle federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by football athletes.

Regent excuses herself
The University of Colorado regents said they would choose the remaining members of a commission to investigate sports recruiting next week, and one regent recused herself from the selection process.

The regents will meet Monday to choose at least five people from a list of more than 160 volunteers and nominees to look into allegations that CU's football program used sex and alcohol to recruit promising high school athletes.

Regent Cindy Carlisle said Thursday she will not participate in the selection because her husband's ties to a lawsuit that helped trigger the controversy.

Carlisle is married to Baine Kerr, an attorney for a woman who filed a federal lawsuit against the university saying she was raped at an off-campus party attended by football players and recruits.

The regents have already named co-chairs for the investigative panel, former state lawmakers Peggy Lamm and Joyce Lawrence.

On Monday, regents will choose five more members. If Lamm and Lawrence feel some expertise is missing from the commission, they will be allowed to recommend an eighth member. The regents would then vote on that eighth member.

The commission is to report its findings by April 30.

-- The Associated Press

Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan said university officials should also meet with the women to hear their side of the story and then begin working on how to deal with acquaintance rape problems at the nation's No. 1 party school.

University President Elizabeth Hoffman did not return repeated calls seeking comment. But spokesman Bob Nero said Hoffman would be willing to discuss changes to university and athletics department policies if the women drop their pursuit of "a large financial settlement."

Attorneys and a spokeswoman representing two of the women say they have not heard from university attorneys. Counsel for the school and an attorney for the third plaintiff did not return calls.

University attorney David Temple said there was a settlement conference in one case that took an entire day in court and that more meetings are likely. He said only the Board of Regents can authorize a settlement.

The meeting between Keenan and Hoffman was an odd twist in a scandal that has dominated headlines and prompted a warning from Gov. Bill Owens for the state's flagship university to get its act together.

Just last week, Keenan had said she was reopening the criminal investigation into the women's claim that they were raped at or after an off-campus football recruiting party in December 2001.

It was Keenan who decided against filing rape charges in the case years ago, saying it would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But in a deposition in one of the lawsuits disclosed just two weeks ago, she accused the Boulder school of using sex and alcohol to entice high school recruits and ignoring her demand to do something about it.

University officials, including Hoffman and football coach Gary Barnett, have denied the allegations but the scandal has been fueled by questions over how much control the school has over its athletes.

The regents have ordered an investigation by an independent commission co-chaired by former lawmakers Peggy Lamm and Joyce Lawrence. NCAA president Myles Brand said Thursday he's forming a task force over concerns about recruiting practices.

Keenan said she met with Hoffman to try to calm things down.

"We need to get everybody to the table, and go forward in a positive way and stop mudslinging," Keenan said in a telephone interview.

The lawsuits accuse the university of fostering an environment hostile to women, which would violate federal gender equity laws. Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney, said settling the suits should have no effect on the investigation.

He said it would "be more expedient and more convenient but not necessarily more appropriate" in answering questions about the scandal. Lamm and Lawrence did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Regina Cowles, president of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the university should heed Keenan's advice to settle the lawsuits and re-examine its policies.

"CU has ignored these problems for years," she said. "Anything they can do to make it right is a good thing."

Keenan said she wants to deal with some long-standing issues at the university, including the need to understand the dynamics of "date rape."

"I think the university administrators and athletic department should get the same training I have had," said Keenan, who was a sex crimes prosecutor in the district attorney's office before winning election last year.

She urged university officials to meet with the alleged victims because "there are dynamics about this crime that cause people to disbelieve them."

Said Nero, the university spokesman: "For that to happen, they are going to have to say they are not pursuing a large settlement."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press