Fighting rape and molestation allegations in court is never easy, but the situation gets even more entangled when a public figure is involved. For that reason, former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna says the legal options don’t look good for Mayor Ed Murray.
“When you’re a public figure, this is a really, really tough problem,” McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Jason and Burns.
On Thursday afternoon, The Seattle Times reported that a Kent man is suing Murray over claims that the mayor “raped and molested” him in the 1980s when he was 15 years old. The Times’ story indicates that two other minors have made similar allegations. Murray responded to the allegations Friday by calling them “simply untrue” and affirming that he will continue in his post as mayor and will still run for reelection.
McKenna noted that the burden of proof is not on Mayor Murray to prove his own innocence. However, because this is a civil, rather than a criminal, case the plaintiff is not held to the standard of proving the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It’s a different standard for civil cases than criminal cases, but it’s not as high as beyond a reasonable doubt for the plaintiff,” McKenna said.
The former AG pointed to legendary comedian Bill Cosby’s upcoming sexual assault trial as a similar example. McKenna noted that although the statute of limitations may have expired for a criminal case, one of Cosby’s alleged victims was still able to file a civil lawsuit. And although the burden of proof is not as tough, the evidence needs to be persuasive to a jury.
But whether a public figure should let the case get to trial– whether he or she is guilty or innocent — is complicated.
“Typically, if the defendant looks at the case with his lawyer and says, ‘You know this didn’t happen but there’s enough evidence here – particularly in light of the fact there are other people coming forward – that it would be better just to make this go away. You’d settle it,” McKenna said. “But if you’re a public figure, that’s really hard to do because everyone sees a settlement, where you pay money even if you structure the settlement to expressly not include admission of liability, saying ‘I did it.’”
On the other hand, if Murray chooses to litigate — which seems to be how the mayor is leaning because of his vehement denial of the claims — McKenna says the story will drag on for months and, potentially, years.
“I have a hard time seeing how this ends up in trial any earlier than sometime in 2018,” McKenna said. “And in the meantime, you’ve got extensive discovery, depositions and other kinds of discovery … where you’re in litigation, you’re fighting over various pre-trial aspects of the case, and all of that can or will generate publicity. This case is going to be watched very closely.”
Question over Mayor Murray’s privacy
Details of the lawsuit identify specific descriptions of Murray’s genitals. McKenna said that because it is a civil case, Murray will not likely be compelled to expose his body parts. That’s in contrast to when police served a search warrant that allowed them to photograph Michael Jackson nude amid child molestation charges.
Still, Murray’s attorney may recommend photographs, depending on the situation, McKenna said.
“It’s a really tough call. It’s analogous to the question of whether or not you agree to undergo a polygraph examination, a lie-detector test in order to exonerate yourself,” he said. “I think that’s very fact specific and a very tactical decision.”
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