A Biden appellate nominee pushed back against criticisms of how a New Hampshire private school he represented dealt with a female student victim in criminal and civil sex assault cases.
Michael Delaney, who was selected for a seat on the US Court of the Appeals for the First Circuit, said at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he represented St. Paul’s School to the best of his abilities as private counsel.
Delaney was asked by Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to respond to claims of “witness tampering” in the criminal case that led to the conviction of a male student and efforts by the elite prep school to have the name of the victim, then a minor, made public in a subsequent civil case against it.
The allegations were made by the victim of the 2015 assault, Chessy Prout, in a letter to the panel, members said.
Delaney said he had a “very limited role” in the criminal case in which he observed the trial and helped the judge schedule a visit to the school by the jury.
“I did not in that case, nor have I ever during my 30 years of legal practice, ever interfered with the prosecution of a case or interfered with witness testimony,” said Delaney, who is a former state prosecutor and attorney general.
In the civil case, he said the school agreed to the family’s request to proceed anonymously at pre-trial stages and that he “did his job” as an advocate. Delaney said the case resulted in a confidential settlement, which limited what he could say about it publicly.
Delaney was introduced by New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, who noted the support he’d received from victims’ rights advocates in the state.
Delaney faced critical questions about the case from committee Republicans, while Democrats signaled they were more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I evaluate judicial nominees on their legal skill and whether I conclude they can be fair and objective and do not have an ideological axe to grind,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said in a statement. “After today’s hearing, I am prepared to support his nomination.”
Hirono, who was the only panel Democrat present besides Durbin for questioning, asks each nominee if they have made unwanted requests for sexual favors, committed verbal or physical sexual harassment, or faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to that type of conduct.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) pressed Delaney on the “chilling” impact his confirmation would have on sexual assault victims. “What kind of message do you think your conduct sends to survivors of sexual assault?” Blackburn said. “What would happen if they ever come before you on the federal bench?”
After the hearing, Prout’s father, Alex Prout, said in an interview that the family was encouraged by the “difficult questioning” but also dissatisfied that Delaney was nominated.
“I’m so disappointed that we’re at this point at a hearing where someone who’s used these intimidation tactics to silence the voice of our daughter” was put forth by the Biden administration that “has given so much lip service to being supportive of survivors,” Prout said.
—With assistance from Madison Alder
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