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McConnell slams nomination of attorney who represented St. Paul’s School in Owen Labrie case

Senator Mitch McConnell criticized the nomination of Michael A. Delaney to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.Al Drago/Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

US Senator Mitch McConnell on Thursday blasted the nomination of New Hampshire attorney Michael A. Delaney to serve as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, accusing him of using “frankly shocking” tactics while representing a Concord, N.H., prep school in a sexual assault lawsuit.

McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said from the floor of the chamber that President Biden “wants a lifetime appointment for a New Hampshire attorney who represented an ultra-elite private high school against a 15-year-old girl who was suing the school after she’d been sexually assaulted on campus,” according to a written transcript of his remarks.

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The senator was referring to a lawsuit against St. Paul’s School that stemmed from a 2014 episode on campus in which Owen Labrie — then an 18-year-old senior — sexually assaulted a 15-year-old freshman named Chessy Prout. Labrie was acquitted of felony rape charges but found guilty of misdemeanor sexual assault.

The lawsuit alleged the school bore some responsibility for the assault because it fostered and condoned “a tradition of ritualized statutory rape.”

Delaney represented St. Paul’s in the civil case and in response to Prout’s claims, he moved to have Prout — until then known only as “Jane Doe” — named publicly, Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote in a recent column.

Delaney, Abraham wrote, accused the Prouts and their attorney of engaging in “a national media campaign attacking the character, credibility and reputation of the School while simultaneously extolling Plaintiffs’ own character, credibility and reputation.”

Delaney argued that Prout should remain anonymous before trial only if her advocates refrained from speaking publicly about the case. At the trial, he said at the time, she should be named.

Prout, however, ultimately decided to publicly identify herself, and her family settled their lawsuit against St. Paul’s before the matter reached trial.

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“The young lady and her family had hoped to file the lawsuit anonymously, as Jane Doe, and persuade the school to change its ways,” McConnell said Thursday. “That was the path to accountability. But Mr. Delaney fought the girl’s desire for privacy and anonymity. He used it as a weapon against her. He said he’d only let the girl remain anonymous if she were subjected to a gag order about the incident. And he threatened that if the family refused to settle on terms favorable to the school, and went to trial, he’d ask the court to reveal her name.”

McConnell said Delaney “tried to turn a teenage victim’s privacy into a hostage to help a prep school avoid accountability.”

Delaney, a former New Hampshire attorney general who currently chairs the litigation department at the McLane Middleton, firm in his home state, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on McConnell’s remarks.

The Republican senator also chided his two Democratic colleagues from New Hampshire, Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, for “personally” introducing Delaney at his hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Democrats have long claimed they want empathy in their judges,” McConnell said on Thursday. “I prefer neutrality and faithfulness to the Constitution, myself — but empathy is what liberals say they want. Well, I defy anybody to watch [Wednesday’s] hearing and find one ounce of empathy from Mr. Delaney for this child victim.”

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In her opening remarks at the Wednesday hearing, Shaheen said Delaney “consistently demonstrated the temperament and commitment to equal justice under the law that I believe is necessary to be an excellent member of the federal judiciary.”

“She continues to support his nomination,” Shaheen’s spokesperson, Sarah Weinstein, told the Globe in an e-mail Thursday. She forwarded letters from supporters including Susan Carbon, the former director of Office on Violence Against Women under President Barack Obama; Allison Vachon, an investigator in the criminal justice bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Justice; former US marshal Stephen Monier; John Bryfonski, chief of police in Bedford, N.H., and president of the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police; and Sandra Matheson, the former director of the New Hampshire attorney general’s Office of Victim/Witness Assistance.

“I saw first-hand his commitment to seeking justice and his compassion for those who had been victimized by violence,” wrote Matheson. “He was a leader in the state’s recognition of the need to address human trafficking, and he led the effort to create a statewide network of Child Advocacy Centers to strengthen the state’s services and support for children who were victimized by child sexual abuse.”

Laura Epstein, a Hassan spokesperson, said via e-mail that Hassan, too, “continues to strongly support Mr. Delaney’s nomination given his extensive experience and commitment to justice.”

Hassan praised Delaney at his hearing Wednesday.

“Mr. Delaney is an incredibly well-qualified candidate to serve on the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit,” Hassan told her colleagues. “He has the character, intellect, judgment, experience, and empathy to be an exceptional judge.”

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Both New Hampshire senators also had lauded Delaney in a joint statement in January.

“Michael Delaney is exceedingly qualified to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit,” the statement said. “His long tenure in public service, coupled with his extensive litigation experience, make him well suited to serve in this role with distinction. . . . His commitment to justice is evident throughout his career. His accomplishments have garnered him numerous awards and commendations from organizations, and recognition from public servants on both sides of the aisle. We believe he is well suited for this role and would serve honorably — we urge the Senate to confirm him swiftly.”

Delaney’s nomination remains pending.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.