Attorneys mediate civil lawsuit against St. Paul’s School

  • St. Paul's School in Concord, Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 12/19/2017 11:48:13 PM

Attorneys for St. Paul’s School spent hours behind closed doors Tuesday in settlement negotiations with lawyers representing the family of sexual assault survivor Chessy Prout.

The parties to the civil lawsuit were scheduled to meet for a status conference in U.S. District Court in Concord at 1 p.m. The public portion of that hearing was brief before attorneys requested a closed meeting with the judge to continue settlement discussion.

The lawsuit was filed by Alex and Susan Prout on behalf of their daughter in mid-2016 after Owen Labrie’s conviction on statutory rape and other charges, and seeks unspecified damages.

Attorney Peter Bicks of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a New York-based law firm representing St. Paul’s, began the hearing by telling U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro that “the parties have had constructive discussions over the last several months” and could benefit from further mediation.

Chuck Douglas, local counsel to the Prouts, echoed those sentiments, adding: “The settlement discussion is fruitful, but we are not there yet.”

Susan and Chessy Prout were seated behind their three attorneys Tuesday, and were asked by Barbadoro to join counsel in a jury deliberation room to engage in mediation after lawyers for both sides had a few minutes to touch base privately.

While the New York law firm representing St. Paul’s took the lead in court Tuesday, a spokesman for the school said McLane Middleton, which has law offices in New Hampshire and Boston, is still actively involved.

Just prior to leaving the bench, Barbadoro told attorneys that he is interested in moving the civil case forward, and that if mediation isn’t successful he expects the parties to reconvene in January with an agreed upon scheduling order to expedite the case for trial.

The civil case was scheduled for trial in March, but postponed this fall in light of the state attorney general’s criminal investigation into the Concord prep school’s handling of sexual misconduct claims against both former faculty and students. St. Paul’s requested deadline extensions at the opposition of the Prouts, who expressed concern that the case would not move forward for the duration of the attorney general’s investigation.

Barbadoro ruled that certain witnesses who are likely also subject to grand jury proceedings in the criminal case would have an additional 90-day window before they’d have to testify under oath for the Prouts’s lawyers. That witness list includes St. Paul’s top administrators and current trustees.

The Prouts filed their lawsuit against St. Paul’s several months after a Merrimack County jury found Labrie guilty of using the internet to lure Chessy into a sexual encounter as part of the “Senior Salute.” Chessy shed her anonymity in August 2016, weeks after St. Paul’s objected to her family’s use of pseudonyms in the civil lawsuit.

Labrie was convicted of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to solicit sex. The computer charge is a felony and requires Labrie to register as a sex offender for life. Labrie is out of jail on bail conditions pending the resolution of his two appeals, which are currently before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In the civil suit, the Prouts argue that St. Paul’s failed to “meet its most basic obligation to protect the children entrusted to its care.” The parents maintain school administrators knew about the now-infamous “Senior Salute,” in which upperclassmen solicit intimate encounters from younger pupils, and did nothing to curtail it.

St. Paul’s has since denied any liability, saying it could not have prevented Prout’s sexual assault by Labrie.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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