Two weeks ago, a Superior Court ruled against WSU in the case of Robert Barber
, who I represented. This morning, the Court of Appeals in Spokane ruled
in favor of former WSU student Abdullatif Arishi holding that he was wrongfully expelled because he was not give a full hearing on the charges brought against him. This was a big win by Pullman attorney Steve Martonick who represented the student. The court ruled that students facing serious allegations on a college campus must be given a full hearing with the right to have a lawyer speak on their behalf and ask questions. Previously, WSU would allow attorneys to be present but they were not allowed to speak or ask questions of witnesses.
Judge Laurell Siddoway authored the court’s decision ruling WSU procedures unlawful.
They court of appeals pointed out that expulsion hearings are serious matters for college students, and people face damage to their personal reputations and their academic career. Additionally, in the case of Abdullatif Arishi, there was the additional consequence of losing a student visa and being deported. WSU argued that Title IX of Civil Rights Act mandated certain other procedures but the court rejected that analysis because the alleged victim of Mr. Arishi was not a student at WSU.
The decision means that in Washington state, when individuals make accusations against another student, they will have to appear in person and face questioning by lawyers in front of a disciplinary board. Previously, an accuser could not be made to testify and an investigator would speak on their behalf. I anticipate that the school might try to distinguish this court ruling in instances where the victim of an offense is an actual student at WSU.
The court decision also takes issue with WSU’s practice of allowing police officers or investigators to give an opinion on the credibility of witnesses. The court ruled that this is unacceptable, and the hearing board itself needs to be making these sort of credibility determinations based on live testimony.
While on its face, the court decision addresses future cases, it is unclear to what extent this precedent can be used to assist students in past cases at WSU. Typically an appeal would need to be filed to keep this issue alive in each case. However, if the legal precedent was not available at the time, the argument could be made that past students should be given a rehearing.