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Calif. high court: 'Riverdance' star can sue accuser

By The Associated Press
08.01.06

LOS ANGELES — Michael Flatley has won a court ruling that allows him to sue a woman who claimed he had raped her.

The state Supreme Court ruled July 27 that Flatley's $100 million extortion and defamation lawsuit against Tyna Marie Robertson can proceed to trial.

Flatley, 48, is the former star of the Irish dance spectacle "Riverdance." He has gone on to create his own shows, "Lord of the Dance," "Feet of Flames" and "Celtic Tiger."

The lawsuit was triggered by a January 2003 letter Flatley received from Robertson's attorney alleging the dancer had raped her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2002.

In the letter and in subsequent phone calls, Robertson's attorney, D. Dean Mauro, threatened to file a sexual-assault lawsuit unless Flatley agreed to a "seven figures" settlement, according to court papers.

Police declined to press criminal charges and Flatley said the sex was consensual.

Robertson then filed a $33 million civil sexual-assault lawsuit in Illinois, but it was later dismissed. Flatley countered with a lawsuit claiming extortion, fraud and defamation.

Lawyers for Robertson and Mauro argued that the lawsuit brought by Flatley should be thrown out because the letter was a settlement offer and was protected under the California anti-SLAPP act, a law designed to deter lawsuits intended to silence constitutionally protected speech. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.)

The state Supreme Court rejected the argument in Flatley v. Mauro.

"Mauro's communications constituted criminal extortion as a matter of law and, as such, were unprotected by constitutional guarantees of free speech or petition," the six-member panel wrote. "Therefore, the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply."

Mauro attorney Jim Holmes said on July 28 that a request for a rehearing before the state Supreme Court was possible.

"It is certainly an option available to us," Holmes said, adding that the July 27 decision must first be reviewed to see if a rehearing is warranted.

Flatley's Los Angeles-based attorney, Bert Fields, said the decision would help celebrities who are sometimes the target of false allegations.

"Celebrities are so frequently targeted with claims that they've committed some kind of misconduct, usually of a sexual nature," Fields said. "Because of the (state) Supreme Court ruling, we can make these people go to trial and prove our case."


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SLAPP suits



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