Both sides claim extortion in Big Ben’s civil lawsuit
August 22, 2009
RENO – Ben Roethlisberger’s lawyers say the woman accusing him of raping her at Lake Tahoe last summer is “disturbed and calculating” and fabricated the assault to extort a big payoff from the Steelers quarterback.
The allegations in court documents filed late Friday in Washoe District Court in Reno mark the two-time Super Bowl winner’s first formal legal response to the woman’s civil lawsuit seeking a minimum of $400,000 in damages.
They come a day after her lawyer, Cal Dunlap, asked a judge to sanction Roethlisberger’s lawyers because he said they are trying to “bully” her into dropping her suit. He said they tried to smear her with an affidavit from an ex-friend who said the sex in Roethlisberger’s room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe hotel-casino was consensual and that the woman bragged about it.
Dunlap also said the opposing legal team made a settlement offer this week suggesting they might countersue her for defamation – a move Dunlap said “borders on criminal extortion.”
Roethlisberger’s lawyers said in an Aug. 19 letter to Dunlap with the heading “confidential settlement communication” that the “conspiracy to extort and defame” the NFL star has seriously harmed his potential earnings in excess of $20 million.
Settlement alternatives outlined in the offer included one scenario where Roethlisberger would release both the woman – a former Harrah’s VIP host – and Dunlap from any legal liability if the woman dropped her lawsuit and wrote a letter of apology to Roethlisberger.
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Another said Roethlisberger would pay for a psychiatric evaluation of the woman but offered no other financial payment.
Dunlap did not immediately return a telephone message or e-mail late Friday night seeking further comment on the latest filings.
The woman contends in the lawsuit filed last month that Roethlisberger raped her in July 2008 while she was working there and he was playing in a celebrity golf tournament.
The woman reported the incident to Harrah’s security. But she said she never filed a criminal complaint because she feared Harrah’s would side with Roethlisberger and she would be fired. She also accused Harrah’s officials of orchestrating a cover-up.
The suit seeks a minimum of $440,000 in damages from Roethlisberger, at least $50,000 in damages from the eight Harrah’s officials named as defendants and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
The woman said she had been in and out of mental hospitals since last fall for treatment of depression resulting from the alleged assault.
Roethlisberger’s lawyers alleged in Friday’s filing that the timing of her lawsuit on July 10 was deliberately timed to coincide with the opening of NFL training camps “which ensured that the complaint would garner the attention of the national media, a critical element in her plan to exploit Mr. Roethlisberger’s celebrity status to her advantage.”
She is a “disturbed and calculating woman who, together with counsel, fabricated a claim of sexual assault … to save her job and extort a large monetary payoff,” the quarterback’s lawyers said.
When that didn’t work, his lawyers said, she continued the “extortion scheme” by filing the lawsuit filled with “salacious allegations calculated to stir the prurient interests of the media and public and thereby irreparably injuring” Roethlisberger.
Earlier this week, Roethlisberger lawyer W. David Cornwell provided The Associated Press and other news outlets with 18 pages of e-mails and texts purportedly between the 31-year-old woman and a male friend that Cornwell said prove she was not assaulted.
In one written less than 24 hours after the alleged rape, the woman writes about how much she has enjoyed entertaining the celebrities and VIPs.
Earlier this month, Roethlisberger’s lawyers filed a motion for a change of venue and attached to it an affidavit from the accuser’s former friend and Harrah’s co-worker Angela Antonetti.
Antonetti said the woman who made the rape claim “did not appear to be upset, stressed-out or nervous” about her time with Roethlisberger rather she “appeared happy and boastful” and later said she thought she might be pregnant from the encounter.
Dunlap said in his new motion filed on Thursday and made public on Friday that the affidavit was “unrelated and wholly irrelevant” to the question of whether the trial should be moved closer to Lake Tahoe.
“The clear intent of both filings is to intimidate the plaintiff and dissuade her from pursuing her rights in court in this very serious matter,” Dunlap wrote. He said it also was an attempt to persuade him to “abandon plaintiff and her case or risk personal liability.”
“This conduct not only warrants discipline and sanctions, but warrants denial of the privilege of practicing law in the state of Nevada,” he said.
Cornwell said in an e-mail to AP on Friday that the affidavit and e-mails prove the woman knew – and that Dunlap knew or should have known – that her allegations were false.
“This evidence was available to Mr. Dunlap before the scurrilous complaint was filed,” he said. “If Mr. Dunlap feels ‘bullied’ because he has to confront compelling evidence, especially (the woman’s) contemporaneous statements and conduct, so be it.”