The sex abuse allegations against Seattle mayor Ed Murray—and trying to prepare for what's next—opens up numerous questions about the lawsuit and what attorneys on both sides are trying to do.
A 46-year-old Kent man—known by his initials D.H.—filed a lawsuit in the King County Superior Court against the Seattle mayor last week on grounds of child rape and molestation. The complaint alleged Murray paid the man in the 1980s, starting when the man was 15, for intercourse and sexual acts.
Here are questions and answers from Darrell Cochran, a Tacoma attorney at a sex abuse and personal injury law firm. Cochran has been involved in some high-profile lawsuits involving sexual abuse, including a $6.4 million case against the Catholic order of priests in 2012.
State law protects sexual assault victims' right to privacy, especially in the case of bringing a complaint against an elected official. In cases of child abuse, it also allows victims to file a lawsuit within three years of discovering injury was caused by the act. (In the case of D.H., attorney Lincoln Beauregard said the discovery happened when he sought counseling after his father's death.) How common is anonymity and a long process of discovery in cases like these?
Very common with sexual abuse cases, because you'll have people who tried to suppress the harm and horror of what they've experienced for decades.
Washington law has recognized that sexual abuse is one of the most invidious harms that a person can suffer. And for decades the social dynamics worked to keep that type of information or that type of experience under wraps.
Someone in this victim's position is probably just now starting to understand the tip of the iceberg. You're not required to bring a suit until you understand what the damages are.
What did you make of Murray's attorney, Bob Sulkin, announcing that there was no mole? Is that typical, and does it seem credible?
The accuser created a major issue he didn’t need to have by identifying a physical characteristic like a mole on the man’s genitals. If it existed and could be established, it is a case winner. If it is not there and it can be established it never existed, it turns out to be a devastating tactical blunder.
Sulkin’s announcement gives the accuser a major black eye; there is no denying that has backfired at this point. The defense has done a good job of very quickly putting the accuser in a compromised position. It will be fascinating to see if he recovers. He has to start by seeking to obtain the mayor’s past medical records to establish whether there was ever an indication of a mole and/or any surgical procedure to remove one.
What should we expect in the coming months?
Typically, not much happens in the first few months of a lawsuit like this except that both sides exchange formal demands for relevant documents to be produced and information about the claims to be stated. It certainly sounds like the abuse survivor's lawyers want to take testimony from the mayor immediately, but that doesn't usually happen that quickly and I highly doubt it will here. You can expect both sides will be fighting to get full disclosures of information from each other and will likely seek court intervention to make it happen.
The trial will probably be set 18 months from now.
What did you think of Murray's first press conference after the lawsuit came to light?
I've never seen anything like it...The fact that it was completely canned and practiced, and the fact that he wouldn't answer any questions at all. The allegations were untrue and that was it. If it were me getting those allegations, I'd say, "I have no idea who these people are. I have never been near them. I was not in that city." ...Instead immediately his staff is saying that it's politically motivated... That doesn't make any sense. That's a deflection mechanism.
And, "Oh my gosh, the timing is so bad." Is there ever a good time to expose sexual abuse claims? No, that's absurd...The notion that someone will step out and risk public ridicule is highly unlikely in my experience.
Are there enough protections in place for sexual abuse victims in state law? If not, what improvements should be made?
I think the state has done an impressive job of protecting sexual abuse victims. I'd like to see the law abolish the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases and allow victims to obtain "punitive damages" in these cases in addition to compensation for specific injuries. I also think the criminal law [should] abolish the statute of limitations for sexual assaults so that perpetrators raping children in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s serve time for the horrific crimes they have committed but largely went unprosecuted for so many years.