A board representing Oklahoma University’s disbanded Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter retained high-profile lawyer Stephen Jones “to assist them in evaluating” legal matters,
The SAE chapter was closed and kicked off campus this week after a student group published a video depicting some of the frat’s members participating in a racist chant. Two of its members were also expelled for what university president David Boren called their “leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant.” Boren condemned the actions of the fraternity brothers in a lengthy Monday press conference.
Although the fraternity seeks “to have some other resolution to this matter,
“Above all else,
Jones, who served as Timothy McVeigh’s lead defense attorney during the Oklahoma City Bombing trial, said he believes the university’s response to the video was a “premature rush to judgement,” and one that implicitly painted all members of the fraternity “with a tar brush” as bigots or racists. Jones thought the university should have taken a more “measured” response.
“There are a number of issues here that we have to review,” Jones added, “I’m new to the case.” The alumni board hired Jones to advise them on Thursday.
The university responded severely to the racist video after it emerged online last weekend. Once the school closed the fraternity, SAE students had two days to remove their belongings from the now-closed SAE house on campus this week. “We don’t provide student services for bigots,” Boren declared.
Two expelled students from the fraternity later apologized. The national SAE organization said on Tuesday that it had initiated proceedings to expel all suspended members of the closed SAE chapter from the fraternity.
SAE, one of the country’s largest frats, also disputed the expelled students’ statements, in which the students indicated that they were taught the chant by other fraternity members.
Earlier on Friday, Jones told KTUL that the fraternity could eventually consider legal action against Boren himself.
Some legal experts have previously argued that the expelled students may have a good legal case against the college on First Amendment grounds. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, told The Post on Tuesday that “the students could bring a suit based on the First Amendment challenging their expulsion. Based on what we know from the media, I think they would have an excellent chance of succeeding.”
Jones is not representing the two expelled students, he reiterated on Friday. “How the two young men with their parents and their legal counsel wish to proceed” is up to them, he said, adding that depending on the circumstances surrounding their expulsion, their case might be a due process violation.
When asked by reporters why he agreed to be retained by the alumni board, Jones said he “saw it as a first amendment case.” And, Jones knows some of the alumni board members who approached him about representing the fraternity, and that they were “responsible leaders” in their Oklahoma communities. Jones’s brother in law is also an alumni of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. “I don’t think he’s a racist,” Jones said.
Although Jones is probably best known for defending McVeigh, he’s previously been involved in another high-profile case at the University of Oklahoma.
In 1970, Jones represented a student who carried a what was described as a Vietcong flag at an anti-war demonstration on campus. The student was arrested under a statute preventing the display of pro-communist flags. The case was dismissed, Jones told CNN in 1995.
Jones, like Boren, is a well-known figure in Oklahoma. In 1990, Jones ran as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, against then-incumbent Senator David Boren, a Democrat. Boren won.
Jones declined to definitively criticize the way his former political opponent handled the incident on Friday. “I don’t know everything that president Boren knows” about the situation, Jones said, adding that the punishment was “maybe… a little over broad.”
[This post has been updated, and its headline has been changed.]