EXCLUSIVE: Suspended Student Sues University

A suspended student is suing the University over the handling of the judicial process after he was arrested at his off-campus apartment last April.

James Ball, who at the time of the arrest was concluding his sophomore year, was suspended after another student accused him of “very serious crimes,” that the University determined, after a hearing, to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct, according to court documents obtained by the Torch.

Further hearings have taken place  in Queens County Supreme Court on charges of defamation, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.

Ball is suing the University to have him reinstated and for financial damages, according to Ann Ball, his lawyer and mother. He filed suit after he was suspended for the current semester following a University disciplinary hearing, the prosecution for which was based solely off an unsubstantiated email from the accusing classmate, according to his lawyer.

The Torch has chosen not to reveal the identity of the other student because the nature of the accusation is undisclosed in court papers. That student’s lawyer declined to comment about the case when reached by the Torch, due to pending litigation.

University officials named as defendants in the lawsuit include Rev. Donald J. Harrington C.M., President of the University, dean of students Danny Trujillo and director of student conduct Jack Flynn.

The University declined to comment on the lawsuit. “The University does not comment on pending litigation,” Dominic Scianna, assistant vice president of media relations, said in an email.

According to the complaint, originally filed last month in Queens Supreme Court, Ball was arrested April 27, but the Queens District Attorney decided not to pursue the case, dropped the charges and his record was sealed. Calls to New York City Police and Queens District Attorney’s office confirmed that Ball does not have an arrest record.

Ann Ball said in an exclusive interview with The Torch that she believes the University incorrectly handled several events following the arrest, leading to emotional distress and defamation to James’ reputation.

She said her son attended classes as usual on April 30, the first school day following his arrest, but received an email at the end of that day informing him that he had been suspended for the remainder of the Spring 2012 semester.

She said she accompanied him to school the following day, May 1, to discuss the possibility of him completing his final exams. In the interview, Ball said she offered the school several options, including having public safety escort James on and off the campus.

Ball said the school refused all options and didn’t allow James to take his final exams. His University disciplinary hearing was held July 18, she said.

According to the University website, a disciplinary hearing is overseen by a panel consisting of “two (2) faculty members or administrators and three (3) students.”

The five chosen for the panel are selected from a pool of 35 members of the University Conduct Board. The board “shall have jurisdiction over: (1) alleged serious violations of the Student Code of Conduct; or (2) matters which could result in suspension or expulsion from the University.”

According to the lawsuit, Kathleen McElroy, Associate General Counsel for the University, served as the chair at the panel hearing. Ball’s lawsuit also lists five John Does as defendants, representing the members of the Student Conduct Board panel that served on his hearing. McElroy is also listed as a defendant in the case.

The University decided following the hearing that Ball was in violation of misconduct and suspended him for the current semester, according to the lawsuit. Ball’s mother said the panel came to that conclusion based only on an accusation written in an email from the other student, who wasn’t present for the hearing.

According to court documents, Ball will be able to return to the University in the spring 2013 semester, with “severe restrictions” that are not disclosed.

Ball appealed the University’s decision on July 31 and filed his lawsuit Sept. 6 – the last day to add classes – after not having heard a response, according to the complaint. The lawsuit contends the University acted, among other charges, with malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.

The charges also include a breach of contract, Ball stating that the Student Code of Conduct is a contract of adhesion and any cases of ambiguity should be ruled in favor of the student.

The University formally denied James’ appeal on Sept. 11, court papers state.

Ball also charged the University with two federal charges – discrimination on the basis of his sex and suing the University as a state actor – but withdrew those at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn Oct. 12 after U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan expressed reservations that the charges would hold up in court.

Ann Ball called the length of time the University took in responding to the appeal a “punishment,” saying, “It pressed the whole button on his entire life.”

She declined to make her son available for an interview with the Torch, saying that while he is willing to speak, she prefers all public statements would come from her for the time being.

She also said the University has not reached out about reaching a settlement outside of court.

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