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The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

The students' teacher, Rachel Bradshaw, showed the movie as a "treat" for the boys. But when she left the room, the older boy, who was already on probation for sexually assaulting other children, fondled and performed oral sex on the younger boy and threatened to kill him, his mother and his dog if he didn't comply. The victim was then assaulted again, while still on school property, orally and possibly anally.

Bradshaw questioned the boys but got only denials. Her suspicions were referred to county social services that day, but no one told the victim's mother. Nor were the police informed, until five days later when the older boy admitted to a therapist what he'd done. The counselor notified the Boulder police, but the detective assigned to the case somehow determined that it was a case of consensual sex and referred it to the district attorney's office for prosecution on a charge of public indecency.

Still no one told the victim's mother, who'd noticed that her son was despondent and compulsively washing himself. Three weeks later, when she finally learned why, she turned to a friend of her family, Lee Hill.

When news about the case broke in January 1998, then-Boulder police chief Tom Koby (whose department had been under fire for a year for its handling of the JonBenét murder case), admitted that his department "screwed up" and should have contacted the parent.

However, Barbara Taylor, a spokeswoman for Boulder Valley Schools, said that "all the school district's practices and procedures were followed." A week later, district authorities rethought that statement and apologized for the "delayed communication" and a "lack of compassion" in their response.

The older boy eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assault. In the meantime, Hill was trying to negotiate a settlement with the school district, and to change the policy so that a parent would be notified.

He thought the kid had already been handed too many hard shakes. He'd been run over by a car, resulting in brain-damage; now he'd been raped at school, where he should have been safe. The more Hill learned about the circumstances of the case, the angrier he got -- especially when he found out that the older boy's father had warned school authorities that his son should never be left alone with other children.

The lawsuit named the district, Bradshaw, Superintendent Tom Seigel and then-principal Joette Donnelly as defendants. He didn't specify how much he was seeking. However, he noted when he filed, "I don't think a jury will hesitate to assign a value to being raped when you're eleven years old."

Now, Yoo is pointing out that there may be a problem with their case. Apparently there's a conflict between a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that says schools are responsible for the safety of their students and a statute that could be interpreted to say that they're not.

Still, on the heels of Columbine and a recent settlement that paid $1.25 million to the families of five victims sexually assaulted by former Nederland Elementary School teacher David White, the district might not enjoy the publicity of making such an argument. And if they do, Hill thinks he and Yoo could get the issue before the Colorado Supreme Court -- a fight he would relish.

However, he also feels that it's part of his job to keep the case out of court, saving his client the emotional hardship of a trial. He tells Yoo that if the school district will come back with a "reasonable opening offer," they'll drop parts of the complaint.

Of course, a just settlement will make the whole thing go away without the school district having to tell the world that it's not responsible for the health and safety of the children on its campuses. Yoo grins and heads out the door.

A minute later, Hill is back on the telephone explaining to another client that he has a settlement offer ready for him to sign. He comments that the other attorney "is really a pretty good guy."

There's an angry buzzing from the receiver as the client apparently takes exception to that assessment. Hill shrugs and makes a minor correction. "Well, he's a lawyer, which means he's scum. But in a sea of scum, he's near the top."


In 1977, Hill graduated from Justin Morrill College with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He had just turned eighteen and was already accepted into a Ph.D. program at Louisiana University on a full-ride scholarship.

The professors at Louisiana were kind and encouraging. It wasn't every day they saw an eighteen-year-old Ph.D. student. But it soon seemed to Hill that his presence in Louisiana wasn't meant to be. After he arrived, it rained for forty days and forty nights. A neighbor ran into his brand-new sports car. Moreover, he felt out of place in the stodgy ivory tower of traditional academics, and had learned in Canada that human behavior was more than "multi-variate statistical analysis." He abandoned his scholarship and dropped out of the program after just six weeks.

The decision was aided by a trip he'd made to a metaphysical bookstore in Baton Rouge, where he'd spotted a brochure lying on a table. It was for a small Buddhist college in Boulder called the Naropa Institute. The courses looked interesting and the structure less formal than a typical college. Hill paid a visit to Naropa, and soon he had enrolled in the school's master's program in Comparative Buddhist and Western Psychology.

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