Sullivan case seems headed to civil court
The woman who accused Vero Beach attorney Charles Sullivan Sr. of sexual battery may still get her day in court, despite a designated prosecutor’s decision not to pursue criminal charges.
Stuart-based attorney Jerome Stone says he’s been retained by the alleged victim and that he, with his law partner Linda Capobianco, and their client are preparing a civil suit to be filed sometime next week against the 82-year-old Sullivan.
“It is very disappointing to our client that the Brevard County State Attorney’s Office did not pursue criminal charges in this case,” Jerome Stone said.
While working in a suite of offices with Sullivan Sr., the woman, who Stone said hopes to continue to be identified as “Jane Doe,” claims Sullivan groped and molested her, and exposed himself to her in June. After reporting the incident to the Vero Beach Police Department, the woman wore a police wire into the office to tape what appears to be confirmation of the incident.
“It is clear that it was not consensual,” Stone said. “She was a victim that was violated by Mr. Sullivan and she tolerated it to protect her job.”
While it is our policy to withhold the name of alleged victims of sexual abuse in most cases, the identity of the woman in this case is increasingly widely known in the community and we plan to use her name if she becomes the plaintiff in a civil suit.
Stone, who is known in Martin County legal circles to be “fearless” in pursuing favorable verdicts for clients, has taken on powerful men with deep pockets and daunting defense teams before. He was one of the attorneys who sued another Stuart lawyer, Willie Gary, for sexual assault.
Jerome Stone is no relation to Sullivan’s defense attorneys Bob Stone Sr. and Robbie Stone of Vero.
Equally tenacious is Sullivan’s civil attorney, long-time friend and business partner Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle, who said he’s been contacted by Jerome Stone about the case and is waiting to see if the lawsuit materializes and what it alleges.
Sullivan’s criminal defense team of father and son Stone and Andy Metcalf claim the actions that took place at the offices of Sullivan’s son Chuck and partner Bobby Guttridge happened between two consenting adults, that Sullivan Sr. believes he did nothing wrong, and that Sullivan’s family and friends stand behind him.
“Although Mr. Sullivan clearly exercised bad judgment, anything that transpired was absolutely consensual,” Vocelle said in a written statement on Monday, adding that Sullivan took a lie detector test to confirm the veracity of his version of events. “This case has always been and continues to be about nothing more than money and greed.”
Vocelle says Sullivan Sr., a successful criminal defense and divorce lawyer for more than 50 years, was framed.
He offered as evidence the accuser’s many calls to the cell phone of Vero Beach Police Cpl. Darrell Rivers, and the duo’s behavior during the month leading up to the filing of a police report.
“The fact that neither he nor she reported the incident even though he is a law enforcement officer, the fact that she did not quit her job, and the fact that she continued to engage in consensual activity – and said absolutely nothing – speaks volumes and clearly indicates that this was a setup from the beginning.”
Jerome Stone says his client did say something to her employer, Chuck Sullivan Jr., and that in his capacity as her boss, he told her to tell his mother, Sullivan Sr.’s wife. Jerome Stone said his client suffered the initial unwanted sexual attention out of fear of losing her job, but that it not only escalated to battery, but that it also began to affect her psychologically, and began to disrupt her home life and her relationship with her husband.
As for the questions raised about his client’s communications with Cpl. Rivers, Jerome Stone called that “the sideshow” and said that once those allegations are dispensed with, the evidence will be on his client’s side. “I think it’s going to show that Mr. Sullivan absolutely assaulted this woman.”
The burden of proof is very different in a civil case. In a criminal trial the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, but in a civil trial it’s only a preponderance of the evidence, which according to the National Crime Victims Bar Association’s booklet for victims, means that “the plaintiff must prove there is a 51 percent or greater chance that the defendant committed all the elements of the particular wrong.”
In civil cases, the plaintiff can also have the tables turned and find herself as a defendant in a countersuit, and Vocelle said that would likely happen here, too.
“If a civil action is filed, it will be met with a counterclaim against this woman and possibly others for malicious prosecution. We can’t wait to take the depositions of the accuser, her husband, her Vero Beach police officer friend and her past employers among others,” Vocelle said.
“We are confident that when the accuser's character (or lack thereof) and lifestyle are revealed, a jury will see this woman for exactly what she is.”
Jerome Stone said he and his client are expecting a lot of mud to be slung her way. “She is prepared for the long haul and she understands that things might get worse before they get better,” he said.
His client already got a taste of what the opposition is capable of when the defense team’s private investigator conducted extensive interviews of friends and associates, digging deep into her background and embarrassing her.
“They’re making it clear that they’re digging up dirt,” Jerome Stone said.