Informed by decades of experience seeking justice for sexual assault survivors and most recently by a $10 million jury verdict in a high-profile case that was the first ever tried under the New York City Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act, ECBAWM partner Ilann Maazel’s latest New York Law Journal column aims to help other legal practitioners who take on similar cases.
In “How to Win a #MeToo Case,” Maazel advises colleagues on practical considerations as well as how to prepare their clients for the psychological and emotional factors that will inevitably come into play. “Coming forward to report sexual assault is exceedingly difficult,” Maazel writes in explaining the importance of steeling one’s client for the experience of litigation. “Litigation often involves expansive discovery into every aspect of the client’s life, physical and mental health, and sexual history. It may involve one or more examinations by forensic experts for both sides, a deposition, an appearance in front of a jury, and an unpleasant cross-examination. The client needs to understand the process and be ready for it. On the other hand, coming forward, standing up for oneself, and potentially holding a perpetrator accountable can be empowering and even life-affirming.”
Maazel also recommends plaintiffs’ counsel “expect the unexpected” so they are not intimidated or deterred by outrageous defense tactics and offers tactical advice to avoid ethical issues. Further, notes Maazel, attorneys should ensure they research all potential legal claims and statutes of limitations and retain a rape myths expert to refute harmful misinformation about the causes of rape and the ways in which survivors report and process having been raped. If possible, counsel should also seek to locate other survivors to offer both support and evidence of intent. “If you have multiple, credible survivors testifying against the defendant at trial, this will only help your case,” Maazel writes.
Additionally, Maazel offers guidance on the thorny role the press can play in a #MeToo case. On the one hand, “[n]ot many survivors want to be known for being a sexual assault survivor. Yet public attention to a case can lead other survivors to learn about the case and come forward, which can be extremely important evidence.”