CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A federal judge said Tuesday that a young woman who was the central figure in a sensational Rolling Stone story of a gang rape at the University of Virginia will have to turn over documents related to the retracted article as part of a pending defamation lawsuit.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Glen E. Conrad said in court that he plans to grant most aspects of a motion from lawyers for U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo, who is suing Rolling Stone for its depiction of her in a 2014 article about rape at the campus here. The story focused on allegations that a U-Va. student named Jackie was brutally assaulted at a U-Va. fraternity and that U-Va. officials were callous in their handling of the case; the story was later debunked, and Eramo is seeking communications Jackie had with the magazine and others at the time.
Lawyers have asked Jackie to turn over documents in her possession related to the article and Rolling Stone’s reporting. Jackie’s legal team has argued that her status as an alleged victim of sexual assault largely protects her from the request. Jackie is not a party to the lawsuit, and the court has redacted her last name from documents; The Washington Post generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes.
Eramo’s lawyers wrote in court documents that Jackie fabricated the 2012 gang rape that was the focus of the Rolling Stone article, and they argue that the magazine recklessly published the account, which fell apart under media and police scrutiny.
The lawyers also wrote that Jackie’s gang rape claims might have been the result of a “catfishing” scheme to attract the romantic interest of a classmate. Shortly after the alleged attack, Jackie’s crush began to openly question her about the supposed ringleader of her sexual assault, whom she named as Haven Monahan, a U-Va. junior. An investigation by the Charlottesville police found that no one by that name had ever been a U-Va. student, and efforts to locate him were not successful. Eramo’s lawyers claim that Haven Monahan is a figment of Jackie’s imagination.
In court, Conrad said that he was likely going to call on Jackie to hand over her communications with U-Va. administrators and staff, Rolling Stone and the author of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The judge said that he was still considering other requests filed by Eramo’s lawyers, including communications from Jackie to friends and family related to the article.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision,” said Libby Locke, a lawyer representing Eramo. “Jackie was the primary source for Rolling Stone’s false and defamatory article. It appears that Jackie fabricated the account of the sexual assault portrayed in Rolling Stone, and that Rolling Stone knew she was an unreliable source. We look forward to moving forward with discovery and taking this case to trial.”
Conrad said that Jackie’s communications with Rolling Stone and Erdely likely would be integral to Eramo’s lawsuit. Jackie’s lawyers declined to comment Tuesday.
One of Eramo’s lawyers, Tom Clare, said in court that text messages or e-mails from Jackie about her attack could show that she was not a reliable source. Clare said that Jackie apparently gave significantly different details about her assault in accounts she gave to Rolling Stone and members of the U-Va. administration.
A lawyer for Rolling Stone, Elizabeth McNamara, said that Jackie never mentioned the name Haven Monahan to Erdely or the magazine’s fact-checkers.