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North Carolina university halts trial against student critic

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said on Tuesday it had asked its student-run honor court to halt proceedings against a student who claims she is facing retaliation for criticizing how the school handles sexual assault cases.

Student Landen Gambill is accused of violating the university's honor code and could be expelled if found guilty of intimidating the male student she says raped her.

On Monday, her attorney asked university officials to dismiss the honor court's "reckless prosecution." He said Gambill had filed a retaliation complaint against the state's flagship public university with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

"The retaliatory charges against my client are inappropriate, unconstitutional and utterly without merit," attorney Henry Clay Turner said in a letter to university Chancellor Holden Thorp.

The federal education department is looking into allegations lodged in January by five women, including Gambill, who said reports of sexual harassment and assault have not been properly investigated by the university.

Thorp said on Tuesday the school had requested that the student attorney general suspend the honor court case while the retaliation allegations are reviewed.

"The University takes all allegations of retaliation seriously, whether against an individual or an institution, and this allegation is no exception," Thorp said in an open letter to the campus.

The university's honor court could not immediately be reached for comment.

University officials previously said they had no control over honor court charges and denied that the school was seeking to get back at Gambill.

The school said it was cooperating with the investigations, which also include a review of its campus security program.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay)

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