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Motion May Prevent Students From Getting MIT Legal Help

By Qian Wang


Palmer and Dodge, the firm representing MIT in the lawsuit by the family of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02, is expected to respond today to a motion by the family’s lawyers which seeks to disqualify the firm from representing MIT students who have been subpoenaed to testify in the case.

The twelve students named in the motion are James L. Hardison ’02, LeeAnn Henn ’02, Andrew J. Thomas ’03, Jim Paris ’03, Amanda M. Bligh ’02, Cemocan S. Yesil ’03, Efrat Shavit ’02, Amrys O. Williams ’02, Matthew S. Cain ’02, Rima A. Arnaout ’02, and graduate students Raffi C. Krikorian and Dawn M. Hastreiter. One undergraduate, David A. Mellis ’02, and one former student, Eric J. Plosky ’99, were not named in the motion but have been subpoenaed, according to David DeLuca, the lawyer representing the Shin family.

Most of the students subpoenaed are current or former residents of Random Hall, or were friends of Shin. Hastreiter was Shin’s Graduate Resident Tutor at the time. Arnaout is a former news editor for The Tech, and Plosky is a former opinion editor for The Tech.

MIT not providing outside counsel

Several of the students subpoenaed have already obtained representation through Palmer and Dodge. However, MIT is not offering legal counsel outside of the firm, said Williams, who lived on the same floor as Shin.

“MIT indicated that its law firm could represent us,” Williams said. “One student asked if he could obtain an outside lawyer through MIT and MIT said he could, but that MIT would not pay for it.”

Daryl Lapp, a lawyer for Palmer and Dodge, said that although MIT is currently not offering any legal counsel outside of Palmer and Dodge, if the motion filed by the Shins is accepted MIT will consider all of its options. “MIT will cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

Students say MIT has been fair

Cain, a friend of Shin and the president of Random Hall at the time of her death, said he thought DeLuca was wrong for filing the motion. “I disagree with DeLuca. I think students should be able to take whatever counsel they want,” he said.

Cain also said that MIT has been extremely fair when dealing with the student witnesses and has only given them impartial legal advice. “MIT’s legal counsel has not told us anything about what we should or should not say,” he said. “They have only told us what types of questions to expect and which ones we are and are not legally bound to answer.”

Williams also said that MIT has acted in an impartial and just manner. “DeLuca’s objection is that he thinks MIT students are going to be swayed by [Palmer and Dodge], but MIT has been really good at not taking sides. It is clear that they are not going to try to influence us,” Williams said.

Counsel unfair, DeLuca says

DeLuca said it would be detrimental to the justice process as well as unfavorable for the students if they obtained counsel through Palmer and Dodge. “There is a direct conflict of interest here,” DeLuca said. “For the students’ benefit as well as everyone else’s, these students should have counsel with only their interest at heart.”

“We just want what’s best for the students. We are not trying to sabotage their efforts for obtaining representation,” he said.

Lapp said that MIT will file an opposition to the motion today. “We strongly oppose this motion and are optimistic that it will be denied. MIT’s motivation in offering counsel is solely to give support to people in the MIT community,” he said.

Lapp would not discuss further details of the opposition. “Fundamentally we think this case should be litigated in the court and not in the press,” Lapp said. “What we have to say about this motion will be in our opposition.”

Motion states conflict of interest

The motion filed by the counsel for the Shins states that many of the student witnesses have information that directly attacks MIT’s case. It states that if dual representation of MIT and the student witnesses is allowed, then Palmer and Dodge could interfere with the ability of counsel for the Shins to access certain vital information.

“If unchecked, this relationship will likely result in the loss of the only opportunity that plaintiffs’ counsel will have to fully depose these witnesses and record their complete testimony,” the motion states.

According to the motion, many of the student witnesses provided MIT healthcare staff and administrators information about Shin’s suicidal behavior. The motion claims that if such information had been properly processed, Shin’s death would have been prevented. In one example included in the motion, a student alerted MIT medical the day before Shin’s suicide, saying that Shin was planning to kill herself with an overdose.

The motion also states that Palmer and Dodge’s representation of the student witnesses is in direct violation of several regulations of the Massachusetts Professional Rules of Conduct.

DeLuca also questioned MIT’s commitment to providing students with assistance.“Just to note with irony,” DeLuca said, “against the backdrop of MIT’s stated position with regards to the loss of [Shin’s] life and MIT’s refusal to contact her parents because they believe MIT students are independent, MIT is so very willing to provide counsel, the very same counsel that is representing them in the case.”

Jeffrey Swope, another lawyer for MIT from Palmer and Dodge, declined to comment.

Kevin R. Lang contributed to the reporting of this story.