Bill aims to shield assault victims from retaliatory lawsuit
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Senate decided Monday that courts should postpone any slander lawsuits filed against people who allege they’ve been sexually assaulted.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, the New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the bill, said wealthy perpetrators of sexual misconduct often use defamation lawsuits to try to prevent rape victims from being able to move forward with assault claims.
His proposal would require the delay of a slander lawsuit until all investigations and proceedings involving the assault claim are resolved.
“The reason people file these defamation cases is to bankrupt rape victims,” Morrell said. “This is done to punish and silence rape victims.”
The Senate voted 29-8 to send the bill to the House for debate.
Opponents said they support the intent of Morrell’s legislation to help victims of sexual assault, but they said the measure goes too far in impeding due process rights.
Sen. John Milkovich, a Keithville Democrat, worried about people falsely accused of assault.
“Is there a balance here?” Milkovich asked.
Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, raised objections to a provision in the proposal that would allow for expanded monetary penalties to be issued if a judge determines a slander lawsuit filed against someone alleging sexual assault is fraudulent or frivolous. He also said remedies already exist for a person to object to a defamation lawsuit as improperly filed.
“I think that this is a bridge too far,” Claitor said.
Morrell said the processes currently available for a victim to fight a defamation lawsuit are costly, and he defended the penalties in his legislation as appropriate.
“There’s not enough we can do for rape victims who have the courage to come forward,” he said.
Senate Bill 147: www.legis.la.gov
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