Orrick Pro Bono Team Prevails in Defense of Rape Victim

October.03.2016

In a case that drew national attention, a Yuba County judge granted an anti-SLAPP motion brought by an Orrick team on behalf of a college campus rape victim who had been sued for defamation by her assailant. Effectively throwing the lawsuit out of court, Yuba County Superior Court Judge Stephen Berrier sided with our team’s argument that the defamation suit was meritless and that it threatened the freedom of speech rights of the victim and her family to speak out on an issue of public importance such as on-campus sexual assault.

Led by partner McGregor Scott, the firm represented the rape victim pro bono in defending her against claims by her assailant that he had been defamed by Facebook messages her family posted calling him “a rapist.” The underlying rape occurred at the University of California-Davis in July 2012, when the victim was sexually assaulted while passed out in the assailant’s apartment. After several trials, the assailant eventually pleaded no contest to felony sexual assault, receiving a one-year jail sentence and a requirement he register as a sex offender.

The assailant served his defamation lawsuit on the victim and her family after they walked out of the courthouse after the emotional sentencing hearing. Responding to the assailant’s defamation lawsuit, the Orrick team quickly filed an anti-SLAPP motion, raising arguments that were embraced by the judge, who found the plaintiff failed to meet his evidentiary burden to prove defamation. The judge also awarded attorney’s fees to the victim under the statute; the family intends to donate the fees to a rape victim organization.

The case drew widespread media coverage, including this KCRA interview of McGregor, a partner in our Sacramento office. The effort is the latest example of the firm’s commitment to pro bono efforts, which were ranked #9 in the U.S. and internationally in 2016 by The American Lawyer.

In addition to McGregor, the Orrick team included Senior Counsel Jim Houpt, and associates Martin Ruano and Eric Olah.