Winston’s accuser hires high-profile Title IX attorneys

Florida State QB Jameis Winston and the Seminoles beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl.

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Two Colorado attorneys who have handled ground-breaking federal lawsuits in sexual assault cases involving athletes have been retained by the woman who alleged she was raped by Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, FOX Sports has learned.

Attorney John Clune confirmed to FOX Sports that he and one of his law partners, Baine Kerr, have agreed to work with Patricia Carroll, a Florida lawyer representing the woman who accused Winston of raping her at an off-campus apartment in December 2012.

Their work, Clune said, will be wide-ranging "to evaluate the conduct of a number of individuals and entities in this matter and assess their civil and criminal liability."

The criminal investigation of the alleged sexual assault was put on hold for nine months by Tallahassee police before it was revived in November by State Attorney Willie Meggs. Ultimately, Meggs decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against Winston, the redshirt freshman who burst onto the national scene last fall and led the Seminoles to the national championship.

Winston’s attorney said the encounter between the player and the young woman was consensual. The work of Kerr and Clune is expected to include an examination of the conduct of Florida State officials and the potential of a federal lawsuit under Title IX, the gender-equity law that has become a powerful tool in sexual assault cases involving students.

Officials from Florida State could not immediately be reached for comment.

Clune and Kerr both have done extensive Title IX work.

Carroll told FOX Sports she brought Clune and Kerr in "to determine the most appropriate civil actions to pursue."

"After meeting with them," Carroll said, "I am confident that anyone who has liability in this case will be held accountable and justice will be served for my client at the end of the day."

The case centered on the allegations filed by a Florida State student, who told police early the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, that she had gone out drinking with friends at a Tallahassee bar, that someone she did not know bought her a shot of alcohol and that from that moment on she had only scattered memories of events. She said she ended up in a cab with several people and was taken to an apartment, where she said she was raped. She said her attacker then put her on a scooter and drove her back to the Florida State campus. After consulting a friend, she reported the incident to university police, who in turn notified Tallahassee police because the incident occurred off-campus.

At the time she made the report, she told investigators that she did not know the identity of her attacker. The next month, however, she called police and identified Winston as the suspect after seeing him in a class.

Tallahassee police later put the case on hold, contending that the woman did not want to go forward with criminal charges — an assertion Carroll has repeatedly disputed.

In November, after Meggs’ office took over the case, a test matched Winston’s DNA to genetic material found on the woman’s clothing, and, in turn, the player’s lawyer said publicly the two of them had a consensual encounter. He also produced sworn statements from two others at the apartment who said they witnessed part of the encounter and believed it was consensual.

Ultimately, Meggs said he could not file charges, in large part because of the woman’s inability to remember chunks of time on the night of the attack — leading to speculation that she was drugged, possibly in the shot bought for her by a stranger.

FOX Sports reported in December that the delay in the investigation hurt the search for both evidence and witnesses in the case. For instance, the Tallahassee detective who originally worked the case did not go to the bar where the woman said she had been drinking to look for surveillance camera footage that might help identify people there that night — perhaps even the person who bought her the shot. When investigators from Meggs’ office sought that footage in November, they learned it had been erased months earlier.

Questions have also arisen about whether Florida State conducted the "prompt" investigation required by Title IX after officials learned about the allegation.

Clune and Kerr have both been involved in multiple high-profile cases involving athletes accused of rape.

Clune has handled campus rape cases involving students at Wake Forest, University of the Pacific, the University of Colorado, Stanford and Harvard. He also represented the woman who alleged that she was raped by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Kerr is one of the country’s most well-known Title IX attorneys, and he represented Lisa Simpson, whose allegation that she was gang-raped at a party in 2001 plunged the University of Colorado and its football team into multiple investigations that ultimately led to the resignation of the school’s president, chancellor and athletic director.

Simpson sued CU under Title IX, alleging that the university fostered an environment in its football program that led to her sexual assault. A federal judge initially dismissed her suit, but Kerr won a major victory when a federal appeals court reinstated it after concluded that CU officials showed "deliberate indifference" to sexual harassment.

Ultimately, CU paid Simpson $2.5 million to settle the lawsuit.

Kerr also won an $850,000 settlement in a 2008 Title IX lawsuit against Arizona State University, filed by a woman who alleged she was raped by a football player.

In both cases, the settlements required the schools to create positions for administrators to oversee Title IX compliance and student safety.