Boulder Attorney Representing Second Kavanaugh Accuser Has History of Working High-profile Sexual Assault Cases
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the latest name added to Boulder attorney John Clune’s long list of high-profile men his clients have accused of sexual assault.
Clune has represented women who reported being sexually assaulted by a wide variety of celebrity athletes, including Kobe Bryant, Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and professional baseball player Johan Santana.
Now Clune is representing Deborah Ramirez, the Boulder woman who told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his genitalia in her face in the early 1980s when they were at a dorm party at Yale University, which they both attended.
Kavanaugh, who is a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has vehemently denied the allegation. He already had been accused by another woman of sexual assaul t when the two were in high school.
Clune and his coworkers at Boulder law firm Hutchinson, Black and Cook are widely recognized as some of the best attorneys for cases involving sexual assault and Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex at colleges and universities.
Clune did not respond to several requests for comment Monday by The Denver Post, but one of his partners at the firm said Clune is particularly well-suited to represent Ramirez. Baine Kerr is not counsel for Ramirez, but he and Clune have worked on numerous cases together over the past five years and are well-versed in the challenges of handling litigation in the public eye.
“I don’t think there could be a better lead counsel for Debbie than John,” Kerr said.
Working outside the courts
While Ramirez’s case so far falls outside the parameters of Title IX, Kerr believes the firm’s experience guiding victims through university reporting and investigations will help the Boulder woman navigate what’s to come.
The federal law requires universities to investigate sex crimes if they are reported. Sometimes those investigations can lead to hearings or quasi-trials outside the criminal and civil legal system in which people representing the school hear from all sides of a reported incident.
Ramirez’s case is similar, Kerr said, because so far it has taken place outside criminal and civil court. Instead, it likely will play out in government committees and hearings.
“There’s always the issue whether to testify or not and how public to be,” he said. “That’s going to be very parallel.”
Kerr declined to comment on how Ramirez’s case came to Clune and their firm, but said he first learned of it Sunday night. Former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett initially represented Ramirez, and spoke to The New Yorker for its article, but transferred the case to Clune.
Kerr said Clune’s experience with nationally known cases will help him guide Ramirez through what is so far a somewhat unclear future.
“All of these sexual assault cases overlap with what Debbie is going to need,” he said.
Like in any case involving a report of sexual assault, Clune will have to protect Ramirez’s reputation, Kerr said. He also said that the fact Ramirez did not come forward independently and was instead sought out by The New Yorker helps her case.
“That’s hugely important when you look at who is more credible,” he said.
Clune and others at the firm will attempt to shield Ramirez from the media and the “retraumatizing glare of publicity,” he said. They will attempt to keep her safe, like they did for the woman who said Winston raped her.
″(The attacks) were at a high pitch then, as I’m sure it will be in this case,” Kerr said.
Clune joined Hutchinson, Black and Cook in 2013 after years at his own firm and a stint as a prosecutor in Eagle County. Clune’s experience as a criminal prosecutor who worked on a number of sex-crimes cases was an important asset to the firm, Kerr said.
Before he joined the firm, Clune took on basketball star Bryant in 2004 after a 19-year-old woman said the celebrity sexually assaulted her in Edwards, Colorado. The criminal charges against Bryant were dropped, but the Los Angeles Lakers star later settled the civil suit filed by Clune for an undisclosed amount.
In 2015, Clune and his coworkers at the firm filed suit against Florida State University, alleging the school did not properly protect a former student who reported she was raped by Winston. The football player settled the lawsuit in 2016 - also for an undisclosed amount - and he now plays quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Clune also filed a Title IX lawsuit against Baylor University in 2017 on behalf of a former student who said the Texas university’s football program encouraged female students to have sex with recruits and players and fostered a party culture. The lawsuit claimed that at least 31 Baylor football players committed at least 53 acts of rape between 2011 and 2014.
Before Clune joined the firm, Kerr and others represented a woman who said that University of Colorado football players raped her at a high school football party in 2000. The woman originally did not want to testify in criminal court, but said a few years later she would speak. A judge later ordered that the Arapahoe County district attorney file charges against the players, though the state Supreme Court later overturned that decision.
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Kerr also represented two women who said they were sexually assaulted by football players and recruits in 2001, and filed a suit against CU, claiming the school created an environment that was dangerous to women. The women won a $2.85 million settlement in 2007 following a scandal that ultimately cost the university’s president and the Boulder campus’s chancellor and athletic director their jobs.
As far as Kerr knows, the firm is the only one in the country that has a dedicated Title IX unit.
“Probably nobody else has the numbers and the resources and years of experience that we do,” he said of the six attorneys in the group.
Clune is charming and disarming, Kerr said. While he puts his clients first, Clune is rarely sharp-edged or aggressive toward others, which will be an asset as he navigates national politics.
“I think that’s ideal for the supercharged partisan atmosphere we have here,” Kerr said.
Updated Sept. 25, 2018 at 8:25 a.m. This story has been corrected to properly identify Deborah Ramirez