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Stanford adds three attorneys to embattled Title IX lawyer panel

Despite additions, Stanford's Title IX lawyer panel continues to draw criticism (KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily).

Stanford has added three more lawyers to its panel of attorneys assembled to advise students involved in University-mediated Title IX cases, for a total of eight. But the expanded panel continues to stoke doubts from previous critics of the program about Stanford’s ability to provide fair and adequate resources, due to both lawyers’ backgrounds and a lack of attorneys who exclusively counsel complainants.

The new lawyers serve both complainants and defendants, meaning that students responding to an allegation of sexual violence or harassment can choose any of the eight members on the panel. Three lawyers exclusively counsel the accused.

Meanwhile, complainants can choose from five lawyers who cater to either side of a case. But none specialize in students bringing accusations. Stanford’s website also describes two of the five as “criminal defense” attorneys, which sexual assault victim advocates point out makes them best suited to helping the accused.

The other three are recent additions Katie Hadrovic, Dana Sukenik Kornfeld and Susan Stark, who Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda said were chosen based on two primary factors: experience with cases involving sexual assault or harassment and familiarity with college students and college life.

But some community members wonder why Stanford recruited lawyers who are not currently associated with law firms, including two who have not been practicing law recently. According to Hadrovic and Stark’s online profiles, both women reactivated their law licenses just a few months ago after years on hiatus; Hadrovic has not practiced law in about two decades. This sets them apart from original panel members, who practice law full-time outside their Stanford positions.

According to her LinkedIn, Hadrovic worked for five years as an attorney in criminal defense and prosecution. Kornfeld, who now volunteers as a pro bono attorney with the Justice and Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, has both taught and practiced law; according to her LinkedIn, she spent five years at the beginning of her career at a complex civil litigation firm and, more recently, two years in construction and business law. She also worked as a contract attorney, although her law licenses appear to have been active for only part of the contract period on her resume. Stark, finally, brings 17 years of experience in intellectual property and employment law.

Stanford’s Office of Community Standards website touts the lawyers’ backgrounds, noting, for example, Kornfeld’s work “to protect the civil rights of…disenfranchised and underrepresented individuals” and citing her litigation under the Fair Housing Act and her role in removing the death penalty in Illinois.

Critics still believe Stanford must adjust the panel in order to provide the even legal playing field that the pilot program aims at. At the same time, they worry Stanford’s controversial dismissal of one of its lawyers earlier this year, Crystal Riggins, has left other attorneys wary of joining the panel.

“You would think that the Stanford name could attract top talent,” said Shanta Katipamula ’19, chair of the Undergraduate Senate, who co-sponsored a bill criticizing Riggins’ dismissal. “They can’t do that anymore. Stanford pays [panel lawyers] pennies compared to what they make out of private practice… and you could be fired for your comments when you’re just trying to make the system better.”

Hadrovic, Kornfeld and Stark join the panel amid controversy over Stanford’s year-old Title IX pilot process, which gives students up to nine hours of free legal advice as they navigate a complex process for reviewing sexual violence allegations. The legal panel came under particular scrutiny this year after an administrator’s email cited  “disappointing” public statements as the reason behind Riggins’ dismissal — an apparent reference to critical comments the attorney made to The New York Times about the pilot process.

The lawyer’s highly publicized dismissal raised concerns not only about University retaliation toward those who criticize Stanford but about the makeup of the panel, which has always given accused students more lawyers to choose from than complainants. Riggins was the only attorney who exclusively advised complainants.

Some students and faculty found the skew toward defense attorneys problematic; so did Riggins.

“I strongly recommend that the Advisory Board immediately add attorneys with experience representing complaining students to the list,” she wrote in a February memo to the University after being cut.

Defending its most recent picks, Stanford maintained that lawyers who serve both sides of a case are more suited to the panel, even though three members focus on the accused.

“It is Title IX’s preference that an attorney be willing to represent both complainants and responding students because these attorneys are best positioned to see all aspects of a case,” wrote Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda in an email to The Daily.

However, some students were skeptical of that position, saying that, in their experience, many sexual assault victims do not want to work with lawyers who also serve alleged perpetrators. They argued that the Title IX Office should better accommodate these students’ preferences.

Jackie Lin ’17, who went through Stanford’s Title IX process as a complainant before the panel was created, said that both the makeup of the panel and Hadrovic and Stark’s hiatus from law make her uncomfortable.

“I don’t believe [Hadrovic and Stark] are equipped to fairly and sufficiently represent any student, whether it’s a victim or a responding student,” she said.

“In Title IX’s view, it is short-sighted to assume someone who temporarily leaves the workforce is less capable of representing students,” Miranda wrote in response to concerns about the attorneys’ experience.

According to her LinkedIn, Stark currently serves as co-chair of a speaker series for a local school district and reactivated her law license in January after a nine-year break. Likewise, Hadrovic had not worked as an attorney since 1997 before activating her California bar card this December. Her most recent position was HR coordinator for a marketing company.

Hadrovic declined to comment, and Kornfeld and Stark did not respond to requests for interviews.

The three panel additions have each worked as attorneys for more total years than one of the lawyers who advises only accused students. But Michele Dauber, Frederick I. Richman Professor of Law and a longtime critic of the lawyer panel, believes the complexity and seriousness of Title IX cases calls for “specialized expertise and experience, including recent practice experience.”

Dauber also noted that Stanford’s defendant-only counsel options include Michael Armstrong ’70 — a Palo Alto lawyer with over 30 years of experience who recently represented former student Brock Turner in an internationally followed sexual assault case.

“It is very likely that [Riggins’ removal] has resulted in deterring other similarly qualified lawyers from signing up for Stanford’s program,” Dauber wrote in an email to The Daily.

While students focused their concerns on Hadrovic and Stark, Dauber additionally questioned Stanford’s decision to recruit Kornfeld given that she has spent much of her career in non-attorney jobs. Speaking about all three new lawyers, Katipamula also found it “problematic” that Stanford had replaced Riggins, a woman of color, with three white women.

Michael Bien, a San Francisco lawyer who has guided multiple students through Stanford’s Title IX process and focuses on complainants, said Stanford never reached out to his law office about including him or his co-workers on the panel. Regardless, he says he has little interest in the program.

“It’s a ridiculous thing to begin with, because nine hours is not a reasonable amount of time to represent a person in this kind of process,” Bien said, echoing a defense lawyer’s similar appraisal.

The Riggins incident would “of course” affect lawyers’ willingness to become a Stanford-sponsored resource, he said. According to Bien, though, Stanford’s pay rates also make attracting lawyers tricky: Most Bay Area attorneys, particularly those with specialized experience for Title IX cases, charge more than Stanford offers. The University pays its panel lawyers $200 per hour — significantly less than, for example, Riggins’ normal rate of $400 or Bien’s colleagues’ charges of $500 hourly and upward.

Still, Bien lauded Stanford’s lawyer program as an improvement over providing no lawyers at all. And administrators point out that Stanford’s efforts to give all students legal guidance go far beyond what universities normally make available in Title IX cases.

Yet community members continue to suggest potential improvements. Lin and Dauber, for example, argue that Stanford should simply provide students with vouchers to hire, up to a certain cost, any lawyer of their choice.

A committee of faculty and students charged with evaluating Stanford’s Title IX pilot process is grappling with these questions. Last month, after reviewing Riggins’ removal, Provost Persis Drell called the dismissal “appropriate” but asked the committee to scrutinize the lawyer program as a whole. She raised the voucher system that Lin and Dauber advocate as one modification to look into, among a host of other questions about the panel’s efficacy.

Meanwhile, Lin said, students in the sexual assault prevention group she belongs to, Stanford ASAP, are discussing how to respond to the latest lawyer panel developments.

“I think we’re definitely going to be pushing for some action on this,” Lin said.

Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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