A Denver jury has awarded a former stripper $3.9 million in a sexual assault lawsuit against a wealthy Colorado rancher. The judge presiding over the civil trial called the attack "indescribably brutal," but in 2013 Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey chose to drop the original criminal charge to misdemeanor unlawful contact instead of felony sexual assault.
The victim, Amanda Wilson, and her attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, told The Denver Post the verdict announced late last week was a victory for other sexual assault victims. And they criticized the district attorney's office for failing to prosecute her attacker on more serious charges for the February 2013 attack.From here.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, a Democrat, has been disappointing for a long time, and this particular case certainly isn't the first or the worst of his missteps.
Cases like these are not easy to win, even in a civil lawsuit context like this one, where your case must be established only by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal context. So, while I'm not impressed with this particular plea which didn't show much courage I can understand it.
(Also, it is worth recognizing that it is very likely that the $3.9 million award, of which $2.25 million was for punitive damages, could be reduced in post-trial motions or on appeal, that it is so high mostly because there was there was also a significant employment and business partner relationship between them. The news story also doesn't make clear if it was a federal or state court case which influences what kind of damages can be awarded. Colorado's state law damage caps on non-economic damages and punitive damages don't apply to lawsuits brought under federal civil rights statutes.)
I brought a similar civil case on behalf of a woman who was assaulted and had property stolen from her by a man she was in a relationship with about a decade ago. But, I made what in twenty-twenty hindsight was a tactical error in electing a bench trial (allowing for quicker and less expensive trial) rather than a jury trial, although there was no guarantee that a jury in Jefferson County would have been better. The judge in that Jefferson County case didn't take the assault or theft seriously and essentially treated my client, the assault victim, like a prostitute who wasn't entitled to be free from the assault she suffered (which required treatment in a hospital), and dismissed the case after a bench trial.
While I wouldn't have made the same call that Morrissey did in this sexual assault case, I have far less tolerance for Morrissey's almost complete unwillingness to law enforcement misconduct seriously, even in the face of damning evidence. And, those cases aren't the only ones where Morrissey's office has displayed bad judgment or made policy decisions I don't agree with. As another example, Morrissey's office has consistently been indifferent to the pleas of victims of fraud - his office will almost never prosecute fraud cases unless all of the evidence is presented to him wrapped in red ribbon, and even then it is inclined to pass the buck to the state attorney general's office or U.S. attorney's office of the United States Justice Department.
The Denver DA's office and Denver's Office of Public Safety may not be a corrupt as their dystopian counterparts in the Batman prequel TV series "Gotham", but they aren't a national model of good government either.
Morrissey is term limited and will be replaced by a successor elected in the general election in November of 2016, and no individual instance of bad judgment has been recall worthy, so letting the political process run its course will solve the problem that he is for Denver's criminal justice system. But, suffice it to say that I'll be strongly inclined to vote against any candidate he endorses in that race.