Murray Allegations

Why Did Murray's Accuser Drop the Lawsuit? Lawyers Say It's Standard

A report by The Seattle Times showed documents lending credence to sexual abuse claims in 1984.

By Hayat Norimine July 17, 2017

Seattle mayor ed murray case dismissed june 14 xomyq6

As allegations that mayor Ed Murray sexually abused or raped teens in the 1980s began receiving less attention, The Seattle Times published another report Sunday: A CPS caseworker in 1984 concluded that Murray sexually abused Jeff Simpson, one of his original accusers, when Murray was his foster parent. A Multnomah County prosecutor at the time let the case go not because officials didn't find Simpson's claims credible, according to a document obtained by The Seattle Times, but because the "high burden of proof" a criminal case requires wasn't there.

"However, this in no way means that the District Attorney’s Office has decided Jeff’s allegations are not true,” deputy district attorney Mary Tomlinson wrote. Murray sent a press release Sunday through his personal spokesman, Jeff Reading, again denying the claims. Still, the revelations reignited conversations about whether Murray will now be pressured to go further and resign this year. 

A lawsuit against Murray—alleging he raped Delvonn Heckard starting in 1986, when Heckard was 15 years old—was filed April 6 and dropped just two months later, a month after Murray decided not to run for reelection. The withdrawal instantly changed the perception of Murray's case: The mayor seriously considered a write-in campaign, and mayoral candidates sought his endorsement. Murray held a press conference, where he said he felt vindicated; the lawsuit was clearly politically motivated, he told reporters, and criticized the media for its role in the story. Meanwhile Heckard and Simpson both stood by their claims, and attorney Lincoln Beauregard promised he would file the lawsuit again next year. 

Why did Heckard's attorneys drop the case? For trial lawyers, there was a clear answer, and it wasn't because the lawsuit was politically motivated: Beauregard didn't think he could win against King County Superior Court Judge Veronica Alicea-Galvan. Lawyers get one affidavit of prejudice to request a different judge, and Beauregard already used his.

The sanctions from the court were a bad start for Beauregard, said UW law professor Bill Bailey, and the system is designed to offer trials a fresh start. Attorneys told PubliCola it's common practice to drop a case hoping for a more favorable judge the second time around, and it's fairly easy to restart a lawsuit. 

"It did not surprise me one bit," Bailey said, when he heard the case against Murray had been dropped. "(Galvan) clearly did not like some of the things that were happening in the case. And so it makes perfect sense to me to take a nonsuit and that's what he did."

"Any civil trial attorney's going to pull the plug," Bailey said, if they thought they got off to a rough start with a judge. It would be "almost malpractice" not to.

Darrell Cochran, a lawyer specializing in sexual abuse cases, told PubliCola he also thought dropping the lawsuit had more to do with the plaintiff's state of health. It's "incredibly difficult" to step out in the public eye and bear the brunt of the counter attacks from the lawsuit, Cochran said. 

Both Bailey and Cochran, who are not involved in the case but have extensive experience with youth who have been sexually assaulted, told PubliCola it didn't change their views about the Murray allegations. They said the accusers who came forward fit a profile consistent with the survivors they worked with. 

"Nothing about this changes my feeling that with all the billowing smoke surrounding Mayor Murray, there is fire in there," Cochran wrote. "If he is a child sexual offender, the lawsuit accomplished great public good even if the plaintiff never re-initiates."

Updated July 17, 2017, at 9:48am: This post includes a tweet from mayoral candidate Mike McGinn, who on social media called on Murray to resign Sunday. (Both mayoral candidates McGinn and Cary Moon urged him to resign in May when Murray announced he wouldn't run for reelection.) 

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