A problematic nominee – The Boston Globe
“Michael Delaney is not qualified to sit on the bench,” he said. “If confirmed, it will send a chilling message to sexual assault survivors and their advocates.”
In 2014, when Prout’s daughter Chessy was a 15-year-old freshman at St. Paul’s, a preparatory school in Concord, NH, she was assaulted by senior Owen Labrie as part of a campus custom known as the “senior salute.” Game in which high school students competed for sex with younger students. In 2015, Labrie was acquitted of rape in the incident but found guilty of sexual assault and child endangerment.
The Prouts and others saw the attack as part of a larger culture of sexual abuse at the school and wanted to force broader changes at St. Paul’s to prevent harm to other children. When the school resisted those efforts, Alex Prout said he sued St. Paul’s, blaming the school for failing to protect Chessy.
Delaney represented the school in this case. And in response to Prout’s allegations, he employed a hardball tactic all too often employed by those sued by sexual assault victims: He requested that Chessy Prout — who was previously known only as “Jane Doe” — go public was called.
In Delaney’s filing, St. Paul’s was the victim, and the teenage girl and her family were the attackers. He accused the Prouts and their attorney of engaging in “a national media campaign attacking the school’s character, credibility and reputation while praising the plaintiffs’ own character, credibility and reputation.”
On behalf of the school, he argued that Prout should remain anonymous before the trial only if her attorneys refrain from speaking publicly about the case. At the trial, he said, her name should be mentioned.
The motion was harshly criticized by attack victim advocates as a transparent attempt to intimidate the Prouts and one that would discourage other survivors from coming forward.
“It takes a callous attitude on the part of a defendant to demand disclosure of a victim’s identity.” Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented many abuse victims, told the Globe at the time.
Many institutions sued by sexual abuse survivors use the enduring stigma associated with assault to protect themselves. But St. Paul’s exists for the good of Children; It was inexcusable for a school to use this tactic on its own.
“It wasn’t a legal tactic,” Alex Prout said of the application to name his daughter. “It was a threat and Chessy took that threat to heart. Think what that does to a child and their ability to trust a system designed to protect them.”
But rather than be intimidated by Delaney’s proposal to give her a name, Chessy Prout decided to go public with her, even though it meant her name would forever be associated with the worst that happened had happened to her.
“They had a choice here,” Alex Prout said of the school. “They could have taken the highway and worked with us to make the school a safer place. Instead they chose to play in the mud and take us downstairs.”
In the end, the case never went to court. The Prouts settled with St. Paul’s.
Whether the school has learned anything since then is debatable. In 2018, after an investigation found credible evidence of student sexual abuse, including by faculty, decades earlier, St. Paul’s entered into a settlement agreement with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office that required, in part, the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee its efforts to monitor better protection of his students. That monitor, Jeffrey Maher, quit in 2020 citing “an unbearable work environment” where school officials interfered with his investigation. The school has vehemently denied the allegations and is working with a new supervisor.
And now Delaney is likely headed to the federal bench, nominated by a president who has long advocated for victims of sexual violence.
Alex Prout has presented his case against Delaney to the senators Shaheen and Hassan. Both senators stayed right behind the candidate on Wednesday, citing his work for victims of sexual violence, as did a spokesman for President Biden.
“The White House has the utmost respect for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and expects senators to consider Mr. Delaney’s full record when considering his nomination,” spokesman Seth Schuster wrote via email.
Shaheen’s spokesman and the White House shared several letters of support for Delaney from attorneys praising his work as attorney general, particularly for victims of sexual assault. Shaheen “believes his record of defending survivors and helping them seek justice speaks for itself,” her spokeswoman said.
So what does Delaney’s defense of St. Paul’s say about him?
Perhaps his hardball tactics were a deviation there, and Delaney truly is the champion for sacrifice that his supporters say he is. In that case, he would make an excellent federal judge.
But given that cases like Chessy Prout’s could well come before him on the bench, he definitely should explain to the Senate why he did it what he did to her.
Your father will watch.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.