Duke Lacrosse Players, Families Consider Lawsuit Against University

Dozens of current and former Duke University lacrosse players and their families plan sue the school over its treatment of the team in the aftermath of the Duke rape scandal, some of the families and their lawyer told ABC News.

Charles Cooper, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney, confirmed that "a large majority" of the players and their families have hired him to explore the possibility of suing the university. Cooper would not comment on the basis of any potential lawsuit or whether or when one might be filed.

But, several families who have retained Cooper, most of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said that they expected a suit to be filed soon. They said they were angry about the way the university; its president, Richard Brodhead; and some of the faculty treated the entire team after a black woman accused several white players of raping her at a team party.

The parents said many of Duke's professors and administrators acted as if they assumed that the players were guilty of the accusation and failed to assure their safety on campus.

"The treatment by the university was no different to the entire team as it was to the three indicted boys," said one mother, who spoke on the condition that her name would not be used. "The university was horrible to every single one of us. They threw us under the bus."

Duke Vice President John Burness said that the university's lawyers had been in discussions with lawyers for the families "for months" and that those discussions were ongoing. He declined to comment on the specifics of any potential lawsuit.

"The university established its position fairly early," Burness said. "First, if what was alleged had occurred, it was not something that was acceptable. Second, in our system you are presumed innocent. And third, the way to settle these issues is through the legal process. We held that position consistently."

All the charges against the three indicted students, Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, were dropped earlier this year and the state Attorney General's Office declared them innocent.

The three players reached a settlement with Duke in June for an undisclosed amount of money. They have separately threatened to file suit against the city of Durham if it does not pay them a reported $30 million and enact legal reforms.

Former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong has since been disbarred and served a day in jail for criminal contempt of court for his handling of the case.

Neither the families of the other players nor Cooper, a former assistant attorney general, would elaborate on any potential legal claims. Some parents said they were told not to speak to the press until a lawsuit was filed.

But the lawsuit could focus on possible violations of the university's code of conduct and on what families perceive as harassment by other students and some faculty. Duke officials have been criticized for failing to defend the players early on.

In conversations with ABC News, parents said they believed the university acted as if the players were guilty. They said the administration should have stopped some events that took place on campus, such as "wanted" posters with students' pictures that were displayed around the campus. Demonstrators protested outside the house where Duke co-captains had hosted the party.

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