Attorneys for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have formally answered a lawsuit that accuses Murray of raping an underage teen boy in the mid-1980s.
The documents filed in court this week deny the allegations and request the lawsuit be dismissed.
Liz Porter, an associate professor of civil law at the University of Washington, said the Murray team response is common.
But in this case, she said it's unlikely the request for dismissal will succeed, mainly because this is a "he said, he said" case.
"It's very difficult to resolve a factual dispute without having had any discovery. No depositions have been taken, no evidence has really been admitted,” Porter said.
(Note: This was not a motion for dismissal from Murray’s lawyers, it was simply part of their answer to the lawsuit. They still have the option to file a motion for dismissal.)
The response this week is to a lawsuit filed in April by Delvonn Heckard, a 46-year-old Kent man who claims Murray repeatedly raped him and paid him for sex in the 1980s. Heckard was 15 at the time.
Murray has vigorously refuted the allegations in public and in the media, as well as similar accusations made by three other men.
The formal response to the suit states that Murray “denies any inappropriate contact with Plaintiff or any minor.”
It also notes that Murray does not have a bump on his genitals as is stated in the lawsuit against him.
Murray’s attorneys argue that the plaintiff hasn’t made a valid claim and that the claims are blocked by the state’s statute of limitations.
But that will take some proving, Porter said. The statute of limitations in Washington state is more flexible when it comes to child sex abuse cases.
The clock doesn’t necessarily start ticking when the alleged abuse occurs. The statute of limitations can commence many years after the abuse has occurred as long as it’s “within three years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by said act.”
That means adults abused as kids can sue if they make a connection later in life that injury or damage they’ve suffered was caused by abuse they endured when they were young.
Porter said it would be difficult to have the case dismissed this early based on claims it is barred by the statute of limitations.
“I can understand why Ed Murray would like this to end really quickly,” she said. “But it doesn’t look to me like it’s going to be easy to get out of at least the initial stages of this lawsuit.”
If the case is dismissed, Murray’s lawyers request that he be reimbursed for legal fees incurred because of the suit.
But if the case is not dismissed, what’s likely to happen?
Porter said most civil cases end up being settled. And her bet is that this one may go the same way—regardless of whether the claims have merit.
"Settlements sometimes reflect the merits, they don't always reflect the merits. Settlement would still be a viable option just to sort of open a new chapter in your life," she said.
Essentially, she said, settling would save Murray the financial and emotional stress of going through a trial.
But it’s complicated, Porter said.
“The settlement would have to be consented to by the plaintiff, so if the plaintiff is doing this for the purpose of having a trial then there won’t be a settlement or it would be very difficult to get a settlement.”
Additionally, Porter said that settling with one person could open Murray up to other lawsuits.
Murray’s legal team did not wish to comment Thursday and attorneys for Heckard were unavailable.