Florida’s ethics questioned over Antonio Callaway’s sexual assault case, attorney responds

By Adam Silverstein
August 5, 2016
Florida’s ethics questioned over Antonio Callaway’s sexual assault case, attorney responds
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

The student conduct violation that kept sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway and former quarterback Treon Harris away from the Florida Gators all spring and early into the summer is a sexual assault allegation brought by a woman in December, according to Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.

In a story released Friday detailing why the alleged victim is boycotting her Title IX hearing on Friday, ESPN cites sources as saying the woman chose not to file a police report but instead submitted a complaint with the student conduct office.

After being suspended in early January, Callaway and Harris did not rejoin the team until the Summer B semester when both were allowed to return to campus for classes and participate in team activities. Prior to that, Callaway and Harris remained enrolled but were taking online classes only.

The woman and her attorney have taken issue with the way Florida has handled this incident and are specifically angry about who the university brought on to lead the hearing on Friday. The woman, along with her parents and five witnesses, are refusing to attend the hearing because a booster and former student-athlete is the officer in charge.

“The fact that UF has hired a football booster to adjudicate a sexual assault allegation against one of the team’s own football players is a fundamentally skewed process in which [the complainant] refuses to participate,” the woman’s attorney, John Clune, wrote in a letter sent to UF’s general counsel that was obtained by ESPN and the Orlando Sentinel and read by OnlyGators.com. “To be clear, [the complainant] remains very willing to participate in a fair and unbiased disciplinary process. Mr. [Callaway]’s behavior has had a great impact on her life and continuing as a student at UF is of great importance to her and her future.”

Clune, a respected and experienced Title IX attorney who has brought and won a variety of cases against major institutions, certainly did not hold back in his comments here.

ESPN reports that Florida brought on Jake Schickel, a UF law graduate and booster who is a former student-athlete, as a the officer in charge of hearing the case.

“UF should never have asked him to serve as an objective reviewer and decision-maker on this matter when the claim has been brought against a star member of the very team for which both he and his law partners have provided considerable financial support,” Clune told ESPN. “Quite frankly, short of finding a relative of Mr. [Callaway], I’m not sure how UF could have found someone with more conflicts [than] Mr. Schickel.”

ESPN also cited the executive director of Title IX Administrators as bringing UF’s ethics into question based on this assignment. “I’m not even sure it’s ethical under the state ethics rules for the attorney to take on this engagement given his donations and other boosting of the athletic program,” Brett Sokolow said.

Though schools are allowed to run their own Title IX hearings, the U.S. Department of Education has guidelines in place to ensure impartiality in hearings and remove conflicts of interest. It is hard to say Florida has achieved that in their choice here.

Clune requested the hearing go on at a later date after an impartial officer was assigned. However, a university source confirmed to OnlyGators.com on Friday that the hearing was held as scheduled and completed.


Update: UF on Friday afternoon said, due to state and federal law, it is unable to comment on any specific student disciplinary matter. However, Florida assistant vice president for media relations and public affairs Janine Sikes provided the following statement regarding the school’s process for choosing a hearing officer.

“Our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students. Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality. A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.”


Callaway is represented by Gainesville, Florida, attorney Huntley Johnson, who has maintained his client’s innocence for months. On Friday, the attorney shot back at Clune via Johnson’s partner, Amy Osteryoung, in a strongly-worded statement sent to OnlyGators.com.

“We have read what the complainant’s attorney has released to the press. We consider his actions inappropriate and an attempt at intimidation,” Osteryoung wrote.

“Since the complainant’s attorney has chosen to go to the press in this matter, we assume that he will be releasing the hundreds of pages that made up the University of Florida’s investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the sworn affidavits in this case. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s text messages in the investigation. We assume that he will be releasing the complainant’s multitude of varying and conflicting stories.

“We are not going to besmirch his client in the press. The totality of the investigation which is over one-thousand (1,000 pages) will do that for us. Our client has asked us not to release anything at this point. Because of the conduct of the complainant’s attorney, that may change in the future.”

It should be noted here that Callaway’s potential innocence (claimed by his attorneys) and Florida doing a poor job at assigning a fair and impartial hearing officer (claimed by the woman’s attorneys) are not mutually exclusive. Evidence proving Callaway’s culpability would not change UF’s seemingly awful decision to pick Schickel for this case.

Callaway opened fall practice with the Gators on Thursday and was said to not have missed a step.

On Wednesday, The Gainesville Sun reported not only that Callaway would practice but that he would be eligible to play in 2016, though it did not note whether that came with a timetable for the player. In Clune’s letter, the attorney refers to this report as “disturbing” considering the student conduct hearing was not scheduled until Friday.

Head coach Jim McElwain later Wednesday said Callaway had not been cleared to play as the university conduct process had not yet been completed.

Harris had previously been accused of sexual assault as a true freshman in 2014, though the alleged victim changed her story and charges were dropped. ESPN reports that Harris’s recent decision to transfer from Florida was “part of a plea deal” reached in this case, which also included an apology to the alleged victim.

5 Comments

  1. cline says:

    no buneo all around

  2. Matt Burris says:

    Have to agree that having a booster adjudicate the hearing isn’t a good idea, an impartial professional would’ve been more appropriate. With that said, I wish the woman went to the police instead. Sexual assault should be punished by the law and should never be taken lightly by anyone involved.

    • Frank Derrick says:

      I agree Matt. If the complainant wanted a truly fair hearing, I would think she would have reported a CRIME to the proper authorities FIRST, not a school conduct board. This one is whacky from the outset. Wonder what the attorney would have said if the county court judge, in the case of a criminal trial, was also a Gator booster??? This one just doesn’t line up right. Will be interesting to see what the documents reveal…

      • Tractorr says:

        It might not be as whacky as you think. Sexual assault convictions are very difficult to make especially when it is a he said she said situation. Not only that criminal preceding are public record and this would almost certainly be in the news considering that it involves a high profile athlete. On the other hand, the burden of proof is much lower in a university adjudication. In a court of law it is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a university adjudication it is more likely to be true than false. Also, university adjudications are not not open to the public because of FERPA. While a victim may ideally like their attacker to be found guilty in a court of law, the reality of what they would have to go through may convince them to have some measure of vindication. This is all in theory I am not saying any or all of this did or did not happen in this situation.

  3. Tom says:

    It looks bad. It smells bad. If Callaway acted improperly he should be punished like any other student. If the girl was complicit and is ov ereaching, then let that come out. UF did itself, UAA & Callaway no favor by not policing its own investigation thououghly. UF prides itself on and Jeremy has led UAA with high moral principles and integrity. That should not all burn because of some administrative blundering. Let the case go forward and see what really did and did not happen. Meantime quit throwing sand in the air. Its not helpful to the accuser or the accused. Especially the lawyers who roll in the gutter because thats easier than finding the truth.

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