Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Isidore Newman School Must Be Unsealed, Judge Rules

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A federal magistrate judge ordered this week the unsealing of a former student’s years-old civil rights lawsuit against Isidore Newman School involving allegations that a classmate sexually assaulted her, with redactions for names of minors.

In a court filing released Thursday and dated April 13, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael North ordered the case docket partially unsealed and made available for public view, though he gave attorneys for Newman and the student a few weeks to share their proposed redactions with one another. Once everyone agrees on redactions, North wrote that he will order the “remainder of the record unsealed.”

North’s ruling came after The Times-Picayune | The Advocate intervened in the case late last year and asserted that the public should be able to access some, if not all, of the court record. North’s order noted that the former Newman student who is the plaintiff in the case has made two attempts to have the case unsealed as well. But those attempts had remained hidden in the court file until now.

North granted the newspaper’s petition for intervention on Jan. 26. North allowed the newspaper’s attorneys, Scott Sternberg and Suzy Montero, to review the court record and determine which documents the newspaper sought to unseal. Though the lawyers were allowed to examine documents in the case, they were barred from discussing or sharing the case file with newspaper staff while they reviewed it.

Few details about the lawsuit have been publicly known.

Police and criminal court records show that in 2017, a female student reported to law enforcement that a male classmate had digitally penetrated her, fondled her and kissed her without her consent off campus. Both students were 17 at the time of the incident.

Several months passed until someone summoned police to Newman’s campus on Oct. 24, 2017 and reported a sexual battery. Police booked the male student with felony sexual battery, and he later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery.

Then in 2018, the female student filed suit against her alma mater. The male student who pleaded guilty in her case and his family were also listed as defendants in the publicly available case docket. But North’s order references a settlement agreement between them and says their names should be redacted in the unsealed records “in accordance with the settlement agreement to which the plaintiff agreed.” North also referred to the male student and his family as “former parties.”

That leaves Newman as the remaining defendant in the case, though North also ordered that an attorney for the male student and his family should review the pleadings and propose redactions, too.

North ordered that the attorneys involved must redact names and identifying information of every person referenced in the lawsuit who is not a party to the case and who was a minor “at the time of the underlying events.” He also said that any allegations involving “then-minors that are unrelated to the specific allegations at the foundation of this specific case” should be redacted as well.


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