Dear Mr. Grace:
‘Hurt,’ the word itself, is ancient, and typical of the blunt, mono-syllabic terms we get from the rough German parentage of English. ‘Grace,’ as you may know, from the Latin “gratia,” is a beautiful word (hence it’s choice as a name for girls) and an even more beautiful concept. These two words are also surnames, one belonging to you and one to the young woman you have viciously smeared of late, Ms. Margaret “Maggie” Hurt.
Maggie, as you know, was a student at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and a member of the school’s pep band. She traveled with WFU’s men’s basketball team in 2009 to the NCAA Final Four tournament in Miami, Florida. While on the trip, she reported being sexually assaulted by two men in concert, one who forced her to perform fellatio in a hotel bathroom while the other watched the door. Both were star players on the team. Friends and family eventually convinced her to report the incident to campus police once she was back at school. According to her, they informed her that the best course of action (and her only option) was to pursue an internal, student judicial disciplinary process against the two students. She did so.
In a letter attributed to Maggie Hurt’s mother, she claims the two accused students brought an attorney to the internal disciplinary hearing. If you were the one they brought, I assume you came as an advisor, although student judicial hearing procedures I found don’t seem to allow for accused students to bring non-student advisors to hearings. Ms. Hurt, to my knowledge, had no such legal firepower with her.
When she appeared on the Today show late last month, she recounted an ordeal whereby she, and not your clients, were put on trial, and where the entire process left her not only unvindicated but humiliated. The hearing, predictably, focused on her behavior and not on the behavior of the accused students. Your clients were found not responsible and the matter was dropped. Ms. Hurt then reported the crime officially to the police department in Miami, but the DA’s office there declined to prosecute citing a lack of corroborating evidence.
Nothing I’ve recounted so far is atypical. A woman was, by all appearances, sexually assaulted by star athletes and fellow students. For several time-honored and understandable reasons, she did not immediately report the assault where she was, on a school trip. When she finally did report back at her home campus, the matter was considered and discarded by an internal school disciplinary process most likely unequipped to handle claims of profound sexual abuse and possibly biased in favor of the athletes. The frustrated victim then finally reached out to criminal justice authorities where the crime actually happened, only to find that the matter could not be pursued because so much time had passed and no corroborating evidence was obtainable.
Such is the typical fate of the small fraction of women who actually report sexual violence (particularly in the college context involving athletes) to authorities of any kind.
What’s stunning to me, though, are your comments, Mr. Grace, in response Ms. Hurt’s appearance on the Today show. You are a highly respected defense attorney and have been a member of the North Carolina bar for almost 35 years. Yet you claimed to a major local newspaper last month that Ms. Hurt made “bad judgments” on the night of the incident. Specifically, you informed the media of your belief that she engaged in sex hours before the incident in question with another student band member and talked about it with others. You then clarified that this, of course, “didn’t make her promiscuous.”
Thank you, counselor, for that clarification. But I must ask why you have exhibited, in a professional capacity, such breathtaking and needless cruelty toward the complainant in this case? You know very well that the sexual liaisons you accuse Ms. Hurt of engaging in (assuming they are even true) would likely never have become admissible in any criminal court of law. So why did you choose to smear her with this hearsay two years after you successfully deflected any sanctions against your clients? No one faults you for zealously representing your clients, but why seek to portray her publicly this way on information that is surely hearsay at best?
Further, where exactly do you see the legal relevance of anything you claim about Ms. Hurt? Do you really believe that, even if she did engage in sex with another student hours before the incident in question, that she therefore logically must have consented to your clients’ advances, hours later, that she denies were consensual? Do you really draw a logical link between sexual activity in one place and time (where no complaint of assault was made) and sexual activity in another place and time simply because of what you perceive to be the character of the woman involved? That is remarkably myopic, but believable. Or, are you simply vitiating Maggie Hurt because it somehow continues to be expedient in some effort to paint her publicly as a whore who views a sexual encounter as casually as a trip to a soda machine?
I will no doubt be criticized for taking offense to your comments, assuming you truly believe your clients were wrongly accused. Fair enough; understanding that I know much less about the case than you do (from your clients’ perspective anyway) I believe Maggie Hurt’s allegations, and I believe them for reasons borne of common sense rather than blind zealousness or ardor. I fail to see what Maggie Hart gained by reporting this incident falsely to WFU authorities and then the criminal justice system months later. I detect nothing in her demeanor, her account or her history that would cause me to doubt what she claims to be true.
But what I know or don’t know is somewhat beside the point, sir. I write critically because I saw absolutely nothing in your comments about Maggie Hurt that would ever, in any way, advance a legal theory supporting your clients’ innocence. Instead, I see rank vindictiveness on a scale frankly unbecoming of your status as a litigator and member of the bar, Mr. Grace.
Such is the cosmic irony at play here. Ms. Hurt, in my view, has been quite graceful. You, counselor, have been unduly hurtful. Given your stature, success and outstanding reputation, I’m at a loss as to why.