Rolling Stone Trial: Eramo, More Witnesses Testify

Posted: Updated: Oct 19, 2016 07:51 PM
Former UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo and attorneis leaving federal court in Charlottesville (FILE) Former UVA Associate Dean Nicole Eramo and attorneis leaving federal court in Charlottesville (FILE)
Nicole Eramo being interviewed for WUVA in 2014 (Image courtesy WUVA) Nicole Eramo being interviewed for WUVA in 2014 (Image courtesy WUVA)
Sabrina Rubin Erdely and attorneys entering court Sabrina Rubin Erdely and attorneys entering court
Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia

Jurors are done hearing testimony from the woman who brought a multimillion dollar defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine.

Day three of the trial in Charlottesville got underway at 8 a.m. Wednesday, October 19, with Nicole Eramo being cross examined by the defense. She finally left the witness stand around 2 p.m. Eramo had begun her testimony around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, and remained on the stand until court ended for the day. 

The plaintiff claims Rolling Stone, author Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and publisher Wenner Media defamed her in an article published nearly 2 years ago.

In November, 2014, the magazine published "A Rape on Campus" by Erdely. In the article, a University of Virginia student referred to as "Jackie" described being gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September of 2012. An investigation by Charlottesville police in 2015 found no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. Rolling Stone eventually retracted the article and apologized.

Eramo, then the associate dean of students at UVA, claims the article unfairly portrayed her as indifferent to Jackie's plight and only interested in protecting the university's reputation. She is seeking around $7.5 million in damages.

Defense attorney Elizabeth McNamara cross examined Eramo, asking the plaintiff about requirements on Title IX reporting - the federal requirements for how a college or university respond to instances of gender inequality and sexual misconduct. Eramo was also asked why she and UVA didn't investigate multiple rape allegations from Jackie.

Eramo told the court police were the best tool to investigate, but Jackie wasn't cooperating and not reporting to investigators. She testified UVA was very concerned about all allegations, but no warning issued to students.

The jury watched a 2014 interview Eramo did with WUVA a few weeks before the release of Rolling Stone's article. The defense used that interview to point out that no student was expelled for sexual assault from UVA in the 15 years leading up to Eramo's sit down with WUVA, but the university had expelled people for cheating.

The defense is trying to tie that interview back to the article as a way to lay the foundation to jurors that Rolling Stone correctly described the UVA administration and Eramo in Erdely's article.

Emily Renda was the second witness called to testify. Renda, a sexual assault survivor, was a UVA staff member when the Rolling Stone article came out.

Jurors heard portions of a taped deposition Renda gave on March 8. The recording focused on what Renda knew Eramo did for sexual assault survivors and prevention programs.

Renda said there were some survivors who blamed their outcomes on Eramo.

The witness said the university knew she was going to testify about Jackie's story to a Senate committee in June 2014, about five months before “A Rape on Campus” was published.

Renda says no one at UVA told her not to, nor was she reprimanded for telling Jackie's story.

After Renda's testimony ended, the jury took a brief break before Erdely took the stand shortly after 5:05 p.m.

Eramo's attorney, Libby Locke, made a point of listing some of Erdely's previous articles.

I think the evidence is pretty clear that Sabrina Erdely has a pre-conceived story line. She's written about sexual assault before, she's written about rape cover up and indifference by various institutions - large institutions - who she claims have been indifferent to sexual assault," Locke said.

Court wrapped up on Wednesday around 6:10 p.m. It will resume at 8 a.m. Thursday where Erdley will resume testimony.

The jury trial began on Monday, October 17, and is scheduled to last 10 days. Only seven jurors, to be specified later, will ultimately deliberate; three will be alternates.

Statement from Rolling Stone:

"A multi-year review of sexual violence at UVA by the U.S. Department of Education found Dean Eramo to have specifically contributed to the University's hostile environment for sexual assault victims- an assertion much more critical of Eramo than any statement from the Article.  During Eramo's cross examination today, she stated that she remains employed by UVA, at a higher salary. In fact, she was not re-assigned to a new position at UVA in the Article's immediate aftermath, but instead was moved to a new role more than a year after the Article ran, but shortly after the critical U.S Department of Education report.  The fact remains that under Dean Eramo's tenure as Chair of the Sexual Misconduct Board, no one was expelled for sexual assault, while over 100 students were forced to leave UVA for honor code violations."

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