By KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Las Vegas lawyer has been hit with a $335,000 penalty for pressing a bid in U.S. courts to force Cristiano Ronaldo to pay millions of dollars more than the $375,000 in hush money he paid to a Nevada woman who claimed the international soccer star raped her in Las Vegas in 2009.
“I find that Ronaldo would not have incurred a majority of the fees and costs that he spent on this litigation absent plaintiff’s counsel’s bad faith,” U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey said in a scathing, 18-page ruling.
The judge in Las Vegas held plaintiff Kathryn Mayorga’s attorney, Leslie Mark Stovall, personally responsible for paying Ronaldo’s attorneys, led by Peter Christiansen and Kendelee Works.
Stovall and associates in the case, Ross Moynihan and Larissa Drohobyczer, did not immediately respond Wednesday to email and telephone messages about the ruling issued Tuesday.
In a related case, a Nevada state court judge who nearly made long-sealed and long-fought documents public by mistake in August rejected Stovall’s bid for a court order to unseal crucial documents, including a Las Vegas police report about Mayorga’s rape complaint against Ronaldo.
“The decision regarding confidentiality is final,” Clark County District Court Judge Jasmin Lilly-Spells said in her ruling, also issued Tuesday.
Lilly-Spells pointed to Dorsey’s earlier decisions to shield from public view the results of police investigations, a 2010 confidentiality agreement between Ronaldo and Mayorga and allegedly stolen records of attorney-client discussions between Ronaldo and his lawyers.
The New York Times began a fight to release the records before Dorsey in federal court and the Las Vegas Review-Journal took the case to Lilly-Spells in state court.
Christiansen welcomed the federal and state court rulings and earlier findings in the case by a U.S. magistrate judge in Las Vegas, saying they showed “hard-working judges don’t allow lawyers to abuse the system.”
But the rulings aren’t quite the end of more than four years of legal battles.
Stovall is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to overturn Dorsey’s dismissal last June of Mayorga’s civil lawsuit, filed in September 2018 in state court and moved in January 2019 to federal court. If Stovall also appeals the monetary sanction, the appellate judges might consider the matters together.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Mayorga gave consent through Stovall and Drohobyczer to make her name public.
Mayorga is a former model and teacher who lives in the Las Vegas area. Her lawsuit said she met Ronaldo at a nightclub and went with him and other people to his hotel suite, where she alleged he assaulted her in a bedroom. She was 25 at the time and he was 24.
Ronaldo, now 38, is one of the most recognizable sports stars in the world. He has captained the national team of his home country, Portugal, and played professionally in Spain for Real Madrid and in Italy for Turin-based club Juventus.
In December he accepted a lucrative offer to end his second stretch at English Premier League club Manchester United and play for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr. The deal could pay Ronaldo up to $200 million per year through June 2025, according to media reports. That would make him the highest-paid soccer player in history.
Mayorga’s lawsuit alleged Ronaldo or his associates violated the confidentiality agreement they reached almost a decade before the German news outlet Der Spiegel in 2017 published an article titled “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Secret” based on documents obtained from “whistleblower portal Football Leaks.”
Stovall maintained Mayorga never wanted to be named publicly and didn’t break the hush-money settlement. Her lawsuit sought to void it, accusing Ronaldo and his representatives of conspiracy, defamation, breach of contract, coercion and fraud.
In documents filed in 2021, Stovall tallied damages at $25 million plus attorney fees.
Christiansen and Works fought on several fronts for years to keep the confidentiality agreement out of public view. They alleged Stovall improperly used Mayorga to try to capitalize on Ronaldo’s fame and fortune.
Stovall argued that Mayorga, now 39, had learning disabilities as a child and was so pressured by Ronaldo’s attorneys and representatives that she was in no condition to consent to dropping a criminal complaint she filed shortly after her encounter with Ronaldo and accepting the $375,000.
Ronaldo’s legal team does not dispute Ronaldo met Mayorga and they had sex in June 2009, but maintained it was consensual and not rape.
Dorsey’s ruling this week summarized lawsuits that Stovall filed as “attempts to unwind a years-old settlement agreement regarding serious allegations of potentially criminal acts, fraud, and civil conspiracy among an internationally known athlete and a team of ‘fixers’ that spanned multiple continents.”
Stovall “sought out and relied on the cyber-hacked, privileged documents of Cristiano Ronaldo’s attorneys to resurrect Mayorga’s long-since-released claims, tainting this case” beyond redemption, the judge said. She added she “unenthusiastically” dismissed the lawsuit “as a sanction for that bad-faith lawyering.”
Las Vegas police reopened the rape investigation in 2018 after Mayorga’s lawsuit was filed. But the elected prosecutor in Las Vegas decided in 2019 that too much time had passed and evidence failed to show Mayorga’s accusation could be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Dorsey’s ruling on Tuesday was notable for the amount of the penalty she imposed — just $40,000 less than the amount Stovall has acknowledged Mayorga received in 2010.
The judge rejected another $276,000 in court fees and costs that Ronaldo’s attorneys sought, but found their billing amounts — $850 per hour for Christiansen, $500 per hour for Works and $350 per hour for others — “reasonable” in the Las Vegas legal market.
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