Former UM dean to seek sanctions, argues allegations ‘frivolous,’ ‘improper’

Lawyer for plaintiff reprimanded in 2019 in Arizona

By: - December 8, 2021 6:11 pm

Gavel in front of legal person writing. (Provided by Ekaterina Bolovtsova via Pexels.com for the Daily Montanan)

A former University of Montana dean of students plans to seek sanctions under federal or state laws that prohibit frivolous claims, according to a response and counterclaim filed this week in U.S. District Court in Arizona.

In the response, defendant Rhondie Voorhees denied allegations she created a hostile educational environment at her current campus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and she again stated that she has no oversight over Title IX following an accusation she didn’t properly investigate a complaint to that office.

“Dr. Voorhees further avers that she does not handle Title IX matters and therefore cannot ‘mishandle’ them,” said the response. “Moreover, plaintiff was informed of this many times, and plaintiff acknowledged that she understood.”

Title IX is part of a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex by any school or educational program that receives federal money.

In a separate case pending in Montana, Voorhees is among four plaintiffs who in August alleged gender discrimination by the University of Montana and a hostile work environment — claims UM has denied and described as “inflammatory.”

The allegations against Voorhees in Arizona came last month from student Audrey Davis of Embry-Riddle. Davis is represented by Marc Randazza, a lawyer who has represented Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer and Alex Jones of InfoWars.

In the case against the former UM dean, Davis alleges an individual defendant sexually assaulted her, and the “touching was unwanted,” although the complaint notes police determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute. But Davis sought action under Title IX on campus, and her court challenge alleges the university first “acted with deliberate indifference,” and then tried to silence her, including with a defamation lawsuit by Voorhees.

“ERAU (the university) and Voorhees even went so far as to fraudulently seek default against Davis while she was on active armed services duty by lying about her status as a service member,” the complaint said.

In the response, however, Voorhees notes Davis was in the Army ROTC, but she said the Army’s own website states that “ROTC participants are not enlisted in the Army.” The defendant also argues she made the request for default well before being notified Davis “was claiming to be on ‘active duty.’”

Last month, Voorhees filed a motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit, and the response said the voluntary dismissal renders “the entry of default null and void.” The notice said she reserves the right to refile all the claims. In that lawsuit, Voorhees had asked the court to stop Davis from publishing false statements and also for damages.

In her response to Davis’ complaint, Voorhees argues she isn’t sure if she was even employed at Embry-Riddle at the time of the alleged unwanted sexual contact or at the time Davis submitted a grievance. Regardless, however, the response said Voorhees “has no oversight or supervision over any Title IX matters” at the university.

The response notes Voorhees and another campus employee explained the situation to Davis multiple times, and it said Davis claimed to understand. Yet the response said Davis filed a public petition, since taken down, calling for Voorhees’ resignation anyway, and she did so with “several false and defamatory statements,” harming the dean’s reputation and jeopardizing her ability to earn a living.

“Dr. Voorhees further avers that plaintiff’s allegations pertaining to Dr. Voorhees are frivolous and are being presented for an improper purpose, have no evidentiary support, are incapable of having evidentiary support in the future, and were knowingly false when made,” said the response denying all allegations.

The response also argues Davis is barred from any recovery based on her own “unlawful and/or inequitable conduct, which constitutes unclean hands.” It notes the defendant plans to seek sanctions “at the appropriate time.”

In 2019, a disciplinary judge in Arizona ordered Randazza, who is representing Davis, to be reprimanded based on another, different case in Nevada. The court filing notes the objective in a disciplinary proceeding was not to punish the lawyer but to protect justice.

“Imposing a reprimand and probation serves to advise the Bar and the public that Mr. Randazza engaged in conduct that violated the Rules of Professional Conduct,” the order said.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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