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The Law Dean and the Prostitute

MarkSargentPhotoWhen Mark Sargent, dean of Villanova University School of Law, abruptly resigned last week, lips were sealed. The university issued a statement saying that he had resigned for personal and medical reasons and that Associate Dean Doris DelTosto Brogan would fill in as acting dean. Neither a university spokesperson nor Sargent would provide further details.

It did not take long for further details to emerge. News reports said that Sargent had been involved in a prostitution investigation before submitting his resignation. State police in Pennsylvania said that Sargent had been seen leaving a suspected house of ill repute in suburban Philadelphia before a raid last November. Sargent was not charged with any crime. Instead, police said, he and another customer provided information to prosecutors that helped them win plea deals against the owner of the house and two co-defendants.

For this Catholic law school, the revelations answer the question, "What did they know?" but not "When did they know it?" In The Legal Intelligencer, reporter Gina Passarella considers that very issue:

It is unclear when university officials first learned specifically of the alleged prostitution connection. Sargent's resignation submitted to university President Peter M. Donohue cited "personal and medical" reasons -- the exact language the university used in describing the seemingly abrupt resignation. But the school apparently knew that Sargent was involved in some sort of police investigation.

The school's statement said Sargent first told it of the criminal investigation at the time he submitted his resignation. If the school had known about the investigation before Sargent resigned, it should have got ahead of the situation by being forthright with the university's key stakeholders, public relations consultant Ellen Toplin told Passarella. "People are very forgiving when they believe they've been told the truth," she said.

Disclosure may have fallen to the hope that Sargent's link to the prostitution case would never come out. Reportedly, Sargent's attorney called the district attorney in charge of the case to ask whether he intended to release Sargent's name. He did not, the DA replied, although Sargent would have had to testify if the case went to trial. The law school's acting dean told Passarella that Sargent did in fact have medical issues. "We all knew that at some point sooner rather than later that Mark was going to make his decision," she said. "The exact timing was not totally expected."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 7, 2009 at 01:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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