DA urges school to settle suits

2/13/2004 - Colorado Buffaloes

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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