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Fraternity's Defense Lawyer Not Ruling Out Suing OU

Lawyer Stephen Jones, hired yesterday by members of Oklahoma University's disbanded chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said today he's hopeful he can avoid a lawsuit against the school but he's not ruling one out.

Jones, who is most widely known for defending Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing trial, was retained by a board of alumni who oversee the OU chapter of SAE.

Fraternity members chanted about never allowing a black man to join SAE in a recently-circulated video; the chant also mentioned lynching, as we reported Monday.

Jones made it clear today that his defense will hinge on how the group of men was reprimanded, not on defending their behavior.

"All of us agree that the actions which led to this ... are inexcusable," Jones said. "There is no justification for what occurred. Zero."

But Jones said the video shouldn't have been grounds for a disregard of due process, especially when it portrayed such a small fraction of the fraternity's members.

"We are talking about one incident with nine seconds of video on one of five buses," Jones said. "We need to take a breath."

After the video got around, the school formally severed ties with the organization, and kicked members out of the fraternity house.

Jones said a real estate lawyer is looking into whether the school had the right to do that. Jones is focusing on whether the school could disband the fraternity without any sort of hearing process.

"It was President (David) Boren who said in a recent case, that every student deserves a second chance," he said. "We certainly think that's true."

Coincidentally, it's not the first time Jones will be facing off against Boren. Jones ran against him for a U.S. Senate seat in 1990 and lost.

Boren's statement in cutting ties between the fraternity and the school on Monday was decisive and swift.

"To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you," he said. "You are disgraceful."

This week has seen rallies on the OU campus and a march to the SAE house protesting the actions in the video. Jones added today that members of the fraternity have received death threats.

Two students were expelled after the incident. Jones said he is not representing those two students.

He said he hoped he could come to a solution without filing a lawsuit against the university.

"We stand ready to protect the rights of the student members," Jones said. "I'm not ruling out a lawsuit. I'm saying our preference is to proceed with a non-legal solution ... If that's not possible, then obviously we'll have to consider other possibilities."

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Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.