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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

1/30/03 – Laraway v. Dawood: Dismissed

Another page has turned in the ongoing saga of the multiple harassment complaints against Student Trustee Heather Dawood–with a quick court dismissal.

J. Stone Laraway, who had filed a student misconduct complaint against Dawood with UMass, had also filed for a restraining order against Dawood in Suffolk Superior Court, Boston.

A hearing concerning Laraway’s complaint was held December 12, 2002, in Boston. Laraway, however, appeared caught off guard when Dawood arrived along with Peter Michelson, an Associate Counsel for the University of Massachusetts.

Laraway’s legal charges were deemed nonexistent by the judge and the defense, backed up by numerous affidavits, scored a slam dunk dismissal. Some on campus have characterized the interactions between Laraway and Dawood as “childish.”

Laraway’s allegations of harassment included: Dawood’s “inquires [about an unrelated conversation] have been consistent, badgering and hostile, and have left him feeling threatened and fearful;” unwelcome facial expressions; that Dawood said, “I’d like to punch him [Laraway] in the face;” that Dawood had “bullied” her way into conversations; and that there were other unpleasant verbal exchanges.

The judge commented that none of those statements, even if true, were against the law: “Sometimes I say I’d like to punch somebody,” the judge commented, “but that’s not like saying I am going to punch somebody.”

Michelson filed a memorandum in support of Dawood’s motion to dismiss that stated, in part, “[t]he interactions between Mr. Laraway and Ms. Dawood do not give rise to any violation of any legal right. In fact, taking the facts pled in Mr. Laraway’s complaint as true, what he is complaining about is Ms. Dawood’s exercising her First Amendment rights to state opinions or ask questions.”

The memorandum continued: “[m]ore broadly, Mr. Laraway has filed a lawsuit complaining about the fact that he feels ‘bothered’ or ‘harassed’ by Ms. Dawood, but he points to no unlawful act she has committed.”

The court agreed with the arguments set forth by the defense and dismissed the case.

When asked for comment later, Dawood, referring to the court’s finding of no legal merit to Laraway’s case, said, “the judge said all that needs to be said.”

During the hearing Laraway spoke briefly, but was unable to persuade the court of the merits of his case. After the hearing, though, Laraway expressed numerous complaints, including an objection to the university supplying representation for Dawood. Laraway has related that he had been told that, as a UMass Trustee, Dawood had the right to university representation.

One development that Laraway also decried, and struck some others as slightly unusual, was a sworn affidavit from Interim Dean of Students Angeline Lopes.

Lopes, because of her previous position within Student Affairs, was involved in mediating student harassment charges, including the dispute between Laraway and Dawood.

Laraway alleges that some information contained in Lopes’ affidavit was untrue or privileged. Laraway stated that he had asked Lopes if their conversations were confidential and said he was assured they were, but that portions were revealed in the affidavit. “I can’t go and talk to her now,” Laraway said, “I have no confidence in her.”

Laraway had also previously encountered Lopes when he was the victim of an assault by another student: he was dissatisfied with her assistance then, also. Laraway was assaulted after he had spoken out against blatant cheating in a management class: Laraway subsequently received an award, related to that incident, citing his courage under duress from the Center for Academic Integrity.

In Angeline Lopes’ affidavit she stated, “[t]he unfortunate circumstance is that Mr. Laraway wants and has repeatedly asked for only one solution, the removal of Ms. Dawood as Student Trustee, and for her removal from student government generally.”

Laraway alleges that the statement is false, “I asked for other solutions.”

Laraway also states that Interim Dean Lopes had not properly pursued the multiple charges, from more than one student, against Trustee Dawood. “Why isn’t there any committee investigating her?” Laraway said, stating that Lopes had not properly adhered to “due process.”