Jill Yonkers & Matt Miller speak to BLJ about new practice group

Campus misconduct proceedings can have devastating repercussions on a student’s life, academically and professionally.   Jill Yonkers and Matt Miller have formed our new practice group, Campus Disciplinary Defense, to ensure due process for students. 

A Buffalo law firm wants to be the first place a college student turns when accused of wrongdoing on campus.

Attorneys at Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham LLC said they recognized the need for students to have legal representation and recently started a practice group for campus disciplinary defense.

“This is an area where everything can be at stake: your reputation and the 18 years you (spent) getting ready for college,” said partner Jill Yonkers. “We want to take a look at the processes because they have been traditionally unfair to students accused of wrongdoing, whether it’s academic dishonesty, athletic issues, hazing, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

Also part of the practice group are founding partner Anthony Rupp, partner Matthew Miller and associate Matthew Smith.

“We saw an opportunity and we have the skills in-house to do (this type of defense),” Miller said. “It’s something that we think will translate well with the skills that we have and it’s an underserved market.”

The practice group will benefit from changes to Title IX being pushed through by the federal government that critics argue are a step back from guidelines put in place under President Barack Obama.

Under Obama, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a letter in 2011 that outlined the responsibility that institutions must have in response to claims of sexual violence occurring on campus. It required schools to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment once they were made aware, prevent recurrence and address its effects.

Non-compliancy could result in a loss of federal funding. Some college administrators, according to reports, said it pressured their institutions to use confusing disciplinary review processes that favored victims and forwent due process for accused students.

President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to put an end to Obama’s guidance. Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, released a question-and-answer document in September 2017 that rescinded it and detailed how schools should investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct. She later proposed new rules that are expected to take effect soon.

Firm aims to be a voice for accused students