Steelers QB's trial site at issue in court

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The question of where Ben Roethlisberger faces a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault -- in Reno or Lake Tahoe -- is before the Nevada Supreme Court, which already has arguments from his attorneys and is expected to receive briefs from his accuser's attorneys Thursday.

A 32-year-old woman filed suit against the Steelers quarterback last year in Reno, claiming that he assaulted her in July 2008 at Harrah's Lake Tahoe, where she was employed as a VIP hostess. The Post-Gazette does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

The suit also named eight Harrah's employees whom she accused of ignoring or hindering her attempts to have Mr. Roethlisberger held accountable.

Mr. Roethlisberger has denied sexually assaulting the woman, and on Aug. 7, 2009, his attorneys requested a change of venue from Washoe County, where Reno is located, to Douglas County, home of Lake Tahoe, where the incident is alleged to have occurred and where the Harrah's employees live and work.

Calvin R.X. Dunlap, the Reno-based attorney for the woman, said the Reno venue was appropriate because one of the defendants -- an executive of Harrah's -- has a second residence in Washoe County.

Washoe District Judge Brent Adams denied the motion to move the case in September 2009, saying the Reno court had jurisdiction and that there was no reason to believe that Mr. Roethlisberger and the others could not get a fair trial there.

Mr. Roethlisberger's attorneys appealed the judge's decision to the Nevada Supreme Court and filed their arguments July 7.

In the most recent filings, John Echeverria, the Nevada-based attorney on Mr. Roethlisberger's legal team, said the Harrah's employee with two homes "lives five days per week at his home in Douglas County," making that his primary residence.

Mr. Echeverria said the Nevada Supreme Court should reverse the District Court's decision "because it was an abuse of discretion" and would pose an inconvenience for the defendants and witnesses to have to travel from one county to another for trial.

"In fact," he said, "there is little, if anything, tying this case to Washoe County."

He also said the docket in Douglas County was much less crowded than that of Washoe County.

While the Nevada case has languished for almost a year, there have been other relevant developments.

In March, a 20-year-old college student accused Mr. Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in the bathroom of a nightclub in Milledgeville, Ga. Although the district attorney there chose not to pursue charges because he could not prove that a crime had been committed, Mr. Roethlisberger was suspended for four to six games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said the quarterback's conduct did not meet "the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."

Mr. Goodell is to meet with Mr. Roethlisberger on Friday to discuss the suspension.

In handing down his suspension, Mr. Goodell also said Mr. Roethlisberger would have to undergo "a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals," which was concluded in May.

The attorney for Mr. Roethlisberger's accuser in the Nevada case traveled to Georgia to speak with those involved in that case and said it was possible that he might pursue the results of the quarterback's behavioral evaluation, especially in light of the demand by Mr. Roethlisberger's attorneys that his Nevada accuser undergo psychiatric analysis.

"The sanctions imposed by Commissioner Goodell are the business of the NFL," Mr. Dunlap said earlier this year. "However, the behavior of Mr. Roethlisberger in Tahoe, in Georgia ... and elsewhere will be part of the business of our lawsuit."

A year ago, Mr. Dunlap responded to accusations that his client was only after money by offering to settle out of court if Mr. Roethlisberger would admit to the assault, write a letter of apology and make a $100,000 donation to a Reno group that aids abused women.

William D. Cornwell Sr., a representative of Mr. Roethlisberger, rejected the offer, calling it "bizarre" and "a destructive farce."

In April, Mr. Dunlap said the offer for a settlement was no longer on the table and that he expected the case to go to trial.


Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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