Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Bill Cosby On Hold

On March 30, the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge presiding over the civil case filed by plaintiff Judy Huth against Bill Cosby placed the civil matter on hold. Mr. Cosby's defense attorneys had filed a motion requesting that the court stay discovery in the civil matter during his criminal prosecution, which is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Gloria Allred, who is representing Ms. Huth in the sexual battery and emotional distress civil suit, had argued against the defense motion, but the court agreed with the position of the defense. In his ruling, the judge indicated that the hold on the civil matter may be lifted at a later time if the criminal matter in Pennsylvania takes too long of a time. 

Parallel criminal and civil justice cases

Sexual assault victims may seek redress through both the criminal and civil justice systems simultaneously. It is very common for victims to file civil lawsuits against the perpetrators while criminal matters are also pending against the defendants for the same or similar conduct. Parallel proceedings are allowed in both the state and federal judicial systems in California and throughout the U.S. Parallel matters bring up difficult issues regarding the constitutional rights of the defendants and unfairness to both plaintiffs and those who are accused. This means that courts often will stay civil matters until the corollary criminal cases are completed.

Civil discovery and the 5th Amendment right to remain silent

A major issue in parallel proceedings is that criminal defendants have the right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This right is meant to prevent people from being forced to incriminate themselves. During the discovery process in a civil case, defendants and others may be deposed. Depositions involve questioning under oath by attorneys. If a civil defendant also has a pending criminal matter for the same or similar alleged conduct, testifying under oath in the civil matter may incriminate them in their criminal case. This is why civil discovery is often placed on hold in civil sexual battery cases while the criminal sexual assault cases proceed.

Why victims file civil cases when criminal cases are pending

Because of the potential loss of liberty, the burden of proof placed on the prosecution in a criminal proceeding is beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, a civil lawsuit carries a burden of proof for plaintiffs to prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence. Civil courts determine whether defendants are liable for the plaintiff's injuries. If the defendants are found liable, the plaintiffs will normally be awarded monetary damages from them. While the burden in criminal matters is very high, the burden in civil cases is much lower, making civil matters easier to prove. Sexual assault victims thus often file civil lawsuits against their abusers even though the defendants are being criminally prosecuted. It is possible that even if the person's criminal prosecution is unsuccessful, they may still be found to be liable in the civil case, allowing the victims to receive some justice in at least one forum. 

Hiring a civil litigation attorney while a criminal case is pending

Civil lawsuits carry strict statutes of limitations. These are deadlines within which cases must be filed. If a statute of limitations expires, the victims may be forever barred from ever filing their civil matters. Criminal cases can take a significant amount of time, especially when they involve allegations of sexual assaults or rapes. If the victim waits to retain a civil attorney until the criminal case is over, the victim runs the risk of having the statute of limitations expire. It is thus a good idea for victims to retain a civil litigation attorney while the criminal cases are still pending. 

Even if the civil court issues a stay, the case will still have been filed within the required time frame so the plaintiff's recovery rights will be preserved. If a stay is deemed to place a substantial hardship on the plaintiff, a court may still deny it. In this case, the court has indicated that the issue of lifting the stay may be revisited if the criminal case takes too long. A civil litigation attorney may litigate to lift a stay if the stay is posing a hardship for his or her client.