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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, July 20, 2007

July 20 Email from Dean Dobranski to Ave Maria Law Community

From: Rice, Sarah on behalf of Dobranski, Bernard
Sent: Fri 7/20/2007 12:22 PM
To: All Law System Distribution; All Alumni
Subject: Letter to the Community

July 20, 2007

Over the past several years there have been many damaging, false accusations concerning the Law School, its administration, and its Board. I usually do not respond to these accusations, but the most recent ones are so false, venomous, and defamatory that I must address them in some detail.

The basic allegation, in essence, is that the Law School, particularly through its Chaplain, Fr. Michael Orsi, participated in helping a local Priest, who allegedly was accessing pornography on his computer, including possibly child pornography, to "clean," "scrub," "alter" and/or "remove" the hard drive from his computer.

This outrageous allegation is absolutely and unequivocally false. Specifically, no employee of the Law School - including our Chaplain or any IT employee - was involved in the "cleaning," "scrubbing," or "removing" of the local Priest’s computer hard drive. Moreover, there was never any conversation between the Priest in question and our Chaplain or any other Law School employee about how to "clean," "scrub," "alter" and/or "remove" the hard drive, or to assist in such efforts. Further, no Law School employee - including our Chaplain or any IT employee - ever handled, touched, or possessed the Priest's hard drive or computer. Any accusations to the contrary are false and completely unfounded.

I want to emphasize that the above statements are based on facts disclosed to me during my initial investigation of the matter, and during two investigations directed by me and conducted by outside counsel. They are also based on facts reported to me from investigations conducted by multiple law enforcement authorities, the local Diocese, and the Attorney Grievance Commission.

Briefly, this is what really happened. In late September 2005, the local Priest met with his Bishop about allegations that the Priest had been engaged in viewing internet pornography. During that meeting, the Priest reportedly was advised to remove "offensive material" from his computer. Later that same day, the Priest telephoned our Chaplain, who he previously knew, to advise him of the meeting with the Bishop and the allegations made against him, to proclaim his innocence, and to ask our Chaplain questions regarding the operations of a computer so that the Priest could establish his innocence of the charges. The Chaplain, unable to answer questions about computers, then asked a member of the Law School IT staff to talk to the Priest about how computers operate. At no time, however, did this conversation relate to cleaning, scrubbing, or otherwise replacing the hard drive. To the contrary, the conversation was about how information could be preserved on the computer hard drive - information which the Priest apparently believed would establish his innocence and might be lost forever if he took the advice he was given at the meeting to remove items from his hard drive - and not how to get rid of the information. In other words, both our Chaplain and the IT employee were under the impression that the Priest was interested in maintaining a record of his internet activity, and not in destroying or altering that record. To this end, the IT employee advised the Priest to seek technical assistance from the Diocese in preserving a record of his internet usage. Furthermore, and to the best of our knowledge, at the time that this conversation occurred there was no active police investigation involving the Priest. In fact, the Priest was told in the meeting with the Bishop, before his telephone conversation with our Chaplain and the IT employee, that county law enforcement officials, who had been asked to investigate the matter, would not be investigating it any further.

I can respond to these accusations directly and without equivocation because of the prompt and prudent steps that were institutionally undertaken by the Law School when I first learned about this matter. The allegation was initially brought to my attention by a Law School employee in December 2005, and I investigated it immediately. Despite the fact that I was satisfied after my own investigation that there was no wrongdoing by anyone at the Law School, I decided that an independent investigation would be desirable because of the seriousness of the matter involved. To that end, the Law School contracted with the Butzel Long law firm, one of the largest and most respected law firms in the state and a firm which has represented the Law School in the past. This law firm is very experienced in conducting investigations for corporations and academic institutions. As one example, this is the same law firm that recently was contracted by Eastern Michigan University to investigate the University's reporting of a campus murder, and whose investigation established that the reporting was not properly made.

Partners of the firm conducted for us an investigation in December 2005 and January 2006. After a thorough investigation, the investigators confirmed the facts I stated above and they also made several other findings. First, the hard drive on the Priest's computer had been replaced with a new one, and the old one given to someone else purportedly for safekeeping. None of these actions involved anyone at the Law School. Second, the original hard drive was turned over to the State Police. To the best information of the investigators, there was no evidence that the original hard drive was cleaned, scrubbed, or otherwise altered; rather, it was maintained intact. Finally, the outside investigation disclosed that the local Priest was advised in early October 2005, more than two weeks after his phone conversation with Law School personnel, that the Michigan Attorney General's office had begun an investigation. On November 30, 2005, the Diocese apparently was notified by the State Police that after its examination of the hard drive that had been removed, it would not be proceeding with a criminal prosecution, and the Diocese informed the local Priest of this the next day. As I indicated earlier, I first became aware of the September telephone call by the local Priest to the Law School in December 2005. Thus, to our best information, there was no criminal investigation occurring at the time I learned of the September call.

I make no judgment and express no opinion about whether the local Priest committed a crime or accessed pornography. This was not the purpose of our investigation. Rather, I directed the investigators to determine whether anyone at the Law School had done anything illegal or improper, and whether we had an obligation to report anything to the authorities. The investigators determined that no Law School employee had done anything illegal or improper. They also determined that the relevant authorities and entities - the State Police and the Diocese - had all the relevant information at the time that our investigation was conducted. The State Police were aware that the original hard drive was replaced, and they had the opportunity to examine both the old and new hard drives, before any decision not to proceed with a criminal investigation. Likewise, the Diocese was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding the allegations made against the local Priest. For all of these reasons, the investigators advised me that the Law School had no obligation to report the innocuous September 2005 phone conversation about how computers track internet usage, particularly since that conversation concerned maintaining (and not destroying) a record of the Priest's computer usage.

In December 2006, I learned that the individual who made the original allegations against the local Priest with the Diocese had filed a Request for Investigation of the Priest's attorney with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. The Request related to the attorney's role in the handling of the Priest's hard drive. I immediately asked the investigators who conducted our original investigation to look into the matter and determine whether any of the allegations made or materials submitted to the Grievance Commission in any way impacted on the conclusions that were reached in our previous investigation, conducted almost one year earlier. After investigating these additional matters, the investigators concluded that there was nothing in the later allegations or related materials that altered the original conclusion that no one at the Law School assisted the Priest in cleansing or otherwise altering his hard drive, or engaged in any other type of misconduct. They also indicated that they would re-visit the matter again if some action were to be taken against the attorney. It is now my understanding that the Grievance Commission has decided not to pursue the matter.

In closing, I want to emphasize that these most recent accusations against the Law School and its employees are incredibly serious and reckless, particularly when made in an attempt to link an innocent Priest such as our Chaplain with accusations involving possible child pornography. Much damage has been done to the reputation of the Law School over the past few years, and increasingly damage is now being done to the reputations of good and honorable people. I urge all those involved to cease engaging in senseless personal attacks because of the serious damage they inflict upon the Law School and members of our community.

UPDATE: AveWatch's response to Dean Dobranski's email can be found here.