The Mel Tucker hearing, what to expect
The hearing will take place virtually on Thursday and Friday.
An administrative hearing begins Thursday for former MSU football coach Mel Tucker. The two-day virtual hearing will examine whether Tucker violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy in his communication with rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy.
The hearing is not open to the public and is a step in the university’s Title IX investigation that began months ago when a complaint was first filed against Tucker. Tracy alleges that Tucker tried to pursue her romantically and that he masturbated during a phone call in April of last year without consent. The hearing will also look into whether Tucker sought revenge against Tracy when he canceled a scheduled visit of hers to campus.
Elizabeth Abdnour is a Lansing area civil rights attorney who specializes in Title IX. WKAR's Al Martin spoke with Abdnour about what to expect during the hearing.
Al Martin: Why is the hearing still taking place, even though Tucker has been terminated by the university?
Elizabeth Abdnour: It's most likely to give the complainant a feeling of completion and, you know, like she's been heard and been through the process. When somebody's in a position where they've made an accusation like this, that's really difficult for them. You know, regardless of what you may feel about whether the allegations are true or not, it's a difficult process. And I think probably the reason more than anything to go through and complete the hearing processes because they promised that to the complainant. And I think they want to make sure that they give her what they promised her.
Al Martin: Are hearings like this usually virtual and not in person?
Elizabeth Abdnour: During COVID, most schools that weren't already, went over to Zoom for these type of hearings. And that's really been where they've stayed for a few reasons. One is because often the parties are uncomfortable being in the same room together anyway. So that sort of resolves that. And then I know in this case, they've got an out-of-state hearing officer. I think she's from Virginia or somewhere on the East Coast. So that way, they won't have to worry about bringing her in or anything like that.
During COVID, most schools that weren't already went over to Zoom for these type of hearings...One is because often the parties are uncomfortable being in the same room together anyway. So that sort of resolves that.
So first, it'll likely be happening over Zoom. In a hearing like this, it's very limited what happens. There's not a long process of one side or the other side telling their account like you might see in a court hearing, because that's what the investigation is supposed to be for. So that investigative report that we've been reading about in the news, that will have all of the information that's been collected.
Al Martin: Can you walk us through what this hearing will look like these next two days? What will take place?
Elizabeth Abdnour: In those type of hearings, really the main thing that needs to happen is that each side needs to have the opportunity to cross-examine each other if they want to, so to ask questions of one another and to ask questions of any witnesses that they may want to ask. So that's really good to be the meat of what happens. And then if the hearing officer herself has any questions for anybody then then she'll do that too. So it's really primarily each side asking questions of the other if they choose to do that. That's really the main thing that's going to happen in this hearing.
Al Martin: Can you explain the resolution officer’s role?
Elizabeth Abdnour: The resolution officer is going to be reviewing the entire investigative report, all of the evidence and information that's been collected, listening carefully throughout the hearing. There will be some type of transcript or recording created of the hearing that the resolution officer can go back and review if they want to. And then she'll be writing a decision, which usually those decisions are pretty lengthy and detailed, making a determination as to whether she believes that it's more likely than not that Tucker violated MSU's relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy.
The resolution officer is going to be reviewing the entire investigative report, all of the evidence and information that's been collected, listening carefully throughout the hearing...And then she'll be writing a decision.
Al Martin: What kind of information will be presented that could lead to some kind of ruling?
Elizabeth Abdnour: You know, at this point, there really shouldn't be much new that happens. When a good investigator does their job, that investigative report has all of the relevant information in it. I do think one thing that's going to be key in this hearing officer's mind is going to be trying to decide which one of the two parties is more credible, because you've got two very different accounts. There's a lot of different bits and pieces of evidence here and there. There's been a lot of statements made since the investigation. And so she'll be trying to really determine, I think, who seems to be telling the truth more than the other one. I think that's likely what she'll be listening most closely for during the cross-examination.
You know, at this point, there really shouldn't be much new that happens. When a good investigator does their job, that investigative report has all of the relevant information in it.
Al Martin: Tucker is potentially pursuing some kind of legal action due to his termination outside of the school's Title IX disciplinary process. What kind of weight does the hearing have on that, if at all?
Elizabeth Abdnour: I really don't think it has much because the reason that MSU's communications seem to give for his termination is that he breached his employment contract. And so really, because they've already made the termination decision, it doesn't really matter, I don't think, from that perspective, what the outcome of this is. Now, if the hearing officer does make a determination that he violated MSU's policy, if that's the outcome of this hearing, I think that would give MSU some additional support to say, look, our decision to terminate your contract was obviously reasonable. This hearing officer also came up with the determination against you. Had we not terminated you for breach of contract, we likely would have terminated you for this finding. So that might help them a little bit with their legal arguments. But on the other side of it, you know, Tucker likely can then argue, ‘Look, I knew this process was rigged against me from the start. This is what the outcome was. This is more evidence of why this process was not a fair process and why I should be the outcome was. This is more evidence of why this process was not a fair process and why I should be compensated for having to go through all this.