Mario Batali’s acquittal underscores the dangers of the #MeToo cases

BOSTON – Bill Cosby was released from prison when his drug conviction was overturned and he assaulted a woman. Field Marshal Deshaun Watson secured a record $ 230 million contract, despite an investigation into allegations of assaulting 22 women. Famous chef Mario Batali was acquitted this week just the second day of his trial for sexual assault in Boston.

Nearly five years after the #MeToo era, former prosecutors, legal experts and victims’ advocates say prosecuting cases of inappropriate sexual conduct has proven to be no easier than before the calculation that sparked a storm of accusations against powerful and seemingly untouchable men.


Cases like Batali’s, though nothing more, reinforce how the criminal justice system remains “an extremely imperfect tool” for meeting the needs of survivors, said Emily Martin, vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington-based law firm. , DC. group.

“Not getting a criminal conviction doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen or that it was okay,” he said. “It will often be extremely difficult to prove sexual misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt, especially given the gender stereotypes that lead many people to become suspicious, especially when women share their experiences of sexual assault.”

Suffolk County Assistant Prosecutor Ian Polumbaum, who helped prosecute Batali, declined to comment specifically on the case on Wednesday, but said sexual assault cases are among the most difficult to prosecute.

“Survivors of sexual assault are even less trusted than any other type of crime victim,” he said. “That’s the perception we’re always struggling with. Part of that is public attitudes, part of it is the private nature of the crime in most cases.”


Accusing a person of wealth or stature only increases the challenge due to increased public attention and greater scrutiny of the victim’s alleged motives, Polumbaum said.

“We are not afraid to bring up difficult cases if they are supported by evidence,” he added. “And we hope that the survivors will not be deterred from showing up either.”

The Batali case also reinforces how crucial the creditor’s credibility is in a case of misconduct, especially when there is little evidence or additional witnesses to support the allegations, says Laurie Levenson, a former California federal prosecutor who is now a professor at the College of Loyola Law in California. The angels.

Former Food Network personality Batali, 61, was accused of aggressively kissing and groping a woman while taking a selfie at a bar in 2017. Boston prosecutors relied heavily on photos taken at the bar that night and in testimony of what is now 32 years old. former employee of the software company who accused him of misconduct.


But Batali’s lawyers have perfected the woman’s pending civil lawsuit against Batali, which seeks more than $ 50,000 in damages, as well as her recent admission that she tried to leave the jury in another criminal case claiming to be clairvoyant and in a separate incident. Fake lease documents just for not paying a $ 200 gym fee.

“These cases will never be easy,” Levenson said. “But even in the #MeToo era, you need credible victims.”

Levenson hopes the Batali verdict will serve as a reminder to warn survivors that they will always be subject to a higher standard, especially in high-profile cases.

“In these cases there is more temptation to deviate, and in doing so you undermine the credibility of your own case,” Levenson said. “The whole nature of celebrities leads victims to do things like offer to sell their story, make money demands, or somehow sensationalize what happened.”


But Stewart Ryan, a former assistant attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, who helped prosecute Cosby, argued that a sexual abuse survivor who also sought compensation in a civil lawsuit should not be viewed differently than someone who was hit by a drunk driver suing defendant while facing criminal charges.

He also stressed that the rate of false allegations of sexual assault is “minute” compared to the “much higher percentage of survivors” who never report an attack.

“One reason, unfortunately, is the kind of tactics employed here, questioning a survivor’s motives with questions totally unrelated to whether or not sexual assault occurred,” Ryan said of Batali’s defense strategy.

Batali’s acquittal parallels another high-profile #MeToo case in Massachusetts that has crumbled over prosecution-related issues.

In 2019, prosecutors were forced to drop charges of indecent assault and assault on actor Kevin Spacey after his teenage accuser refused to testify that the “House of Cards” star touched him while working as a bartender at a bar. Nantucket.


Meanwhile, actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is on the verge of escaping jail after pleading guilty last month to forcibly kissing a New York City nightclub worker in 2018.

Even the #MeToo conviction of disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2020 could be in doubt, and a New York court is expected to rule on his appeal soon.

“Sometimes people think from Weinstein’s trial and conviction that we’re at a different time,” said Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a Dallas lawyer who represented abused gymnasts by former U.S. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and other victims.

“People are definitely more aware and survivors get more support,” he said. “But by no means are we seeing the level of responsibility, especially for people who are super rich, very powerful and who are known to the public.”



Associated Press reporters Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, Michael Sisak in New York, and Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this story.

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Mario Batali’s acquittal underscores the dangers of the #MeToo cases

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