Nov 1, 2015 11:13 AM

Lawyers for prep school sex assault victim may file suit against St. Paul's School

CONCORD - The lawyers who represented the victim in the sexual assault case against prep school graduate Owen Labrie are now looking at St. Paul's School and its traditions, which they say spurred the crime.

“This wouldn't have happened had it not been for the culture of the school and specifically the ‘senior salute,'” attorney Steven J. Kelly, who is representing the victim's family, told the Union Leader. “This is basically a game designed to encourage statutory rape, to have upper-class students target under-class students.”

Labrie was sentenced to one year in jail, five years probation and will have to register as a sex offender for life after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a freshman at St. Paul's days before his graduation. He is expected to appeal the sentence to the N.H. Supreme Court.

The trial drew attention to a tradition at the elite school known as “senior salute,” where some senior boys would try to bed younger students before graduation.

St. Paul's Rector Michael Hirschfeld has previously stated that the senior salute was not a longstanding tradition at the school and that games of “sexual conquest” were not tolerated.

Now that the criminal trial has concluded, Kelly said his firm's investigation of the school would begin in earnest and they may file suit. Kelly works with the firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, based in Maryland, whose cases include a class-action concussion lawsuit against the NHL.

Concord attorney Richard Lehmann said a lawsuit against St.Paul's would likely be based on the legal concept of “in loco parentis,” which holds that schools and colleges have a responsibility akin to parents to ensure the safety and well-being of their charges.

The concept is especially relevant in the case of underage students at a boarding school, Lehmann said.

“The victim's parents will be looking to see if the school was aware of the senior salute, if they they took any steps to stop it from occurring, if their Internet server was being used for this type of activity,” he said. “If they were aware of those things and didn't take steps to stop it, then there's potential exposure for the school.”

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