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July 12, 2011 2:33 PM

Wilmer Lawyers Withdraw from Duke Defense Team

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

Four Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr lawyers that have been representing Duke University in lawsuits related to the 2006 rape charges that were leveled against members of the school's lacrosse team withdrew from the case June 30, saying the litigation can be handled by local firms.

Several motions filed on behalf of defendants Duke University and Duke University Health System Inc. have successfully narrowed the focus of the case to the point it makes sense for the two North Carolina firms that have been part of the defense team to assume control of the matter, says Wilmer public policy and strategy chair Jamie Gorelick.

Gorelick, a former U.S. deputy attorney general, along with co-managing partner William Lee and litigation partners Paul Wolfson and Jennifer O'Connor, asked a federal magistrate in a June 28 letter to be removed from the case (PDF). Duke consented and the request was granted (PDF) two days later.

Lawyers from the North Carolina firms Ellis & Winters and Yates, McLamb & Weyher will handle the defense as the case moves forward.

Wilmer and the North Carolina firms have been representing Duke and Duke University Health in two separate but related cases brought by former university lacrosse players who--though never indicted with the controversial 2006 case--allege that school officials committed fraud and obstructed justice in responding to stripper Crystal Magnum's false allegations that she had been raped at a lacrosse team party, The Durham Herald-Sun reports.

Among the plaintiffs' remaining claims: that school officials breached confidentiality promises made to the players and conspired with former district attorney Michael Nifong to cover up the fact the university turned over personal information about the players to investigators without a subpoena, according to The Herald-Sun.

The defendants deny the plaintiffs' allegations.

Wilmer joined Duke's defense team in the wake of the scandal, helping the school reach an undisclosed financial settlement in June 2007 with the three players who were indicted for the rape and later cleared.

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