Level of media interest surprises lawyer of Roethlisberger accuser
July 23, 2009 12:00 PM
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
By Dan Majors Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
RENO, Nev. -- Upstairs, in one of the rooms of his law office on Ralston Street yesterday, attorney Calvin R.X. Dunlap conferred with his latest high-profile client -- the woman who has accused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her last year in the Nevada hotel where she worked.
But the attorney-client conversation was not limited to the civil lawsuit they have filed against Mr. Roethlisberger -- whose attorney vigorously denies the charges -- and eight high-ranking officials at Harrah's Lake Tahoe Resort. It also involved a bit of counseling in how to cope with the throng of reporters -- from newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the Internet -- who have swarmed into her life.
"It's surprising to me," Mr. Dunlap said to a reporter after ushering his client into another room in an attempt to shield her from questions. "Amazing, actually."
Mr. Roethlisberger's attorney would add nothing more to what he said regarding the case in a statement Monday night.
Earlier yesterday, TV camera crews, reporters and Internet videographers had staked out the plaintiff's home in Gardnerville, near Lake Tahoe, in the hope of catching sight of the woman. The few neighbors that live in the sparsely populated town at the base of a mountain range shunned requests for interviews.
Mr. Dunlap, a longtime presence in Reno's legal circles, is no stranger to the news media. A 1964 graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, with a 1970 law degree from Santa Clara University Law School in California, he rose as a prosecutor in the Washoe County, Nev., district attorney's office, winning every jury trial he handled, including robbery, rape, bribery and murder cases.
In 1979, he was elected district attorney, a post he held for four years before returning to private practice.
"Twelve years was enough," he said. "And, at that time, it didn't pay very well."
Over the past decades, Mr. Dunlap has been involved in a number of cases that have gained national attention.
He is representing the state's first lady, Dawn Gibbons, in her contentious divorce from Gov. Jim Gibbons. He sued the storied Mizpah Hotel in Reno on behalf of survivors of a 2006 fire that killed 12 people and injured 31. He represented Darren Roy Mack, who in 2006 was accused of stabbing his estranged wife and then shooting the family court judge handling the case.
Now, Mr. Dunlap has taken up the case of an executive casino host, who claims that she was assaulted by Mr. Roethlisberger while he was staying at the hotel for a celebrity golf tournament. She is seeking more than $380,000 for lost wages and medical bills and unspecified additional damages.
In her suit, the woman, a Canadian citizen, said she did not go to the police because she "was afraid of the consequences of reporting it." Mr. Dunlap said his client reported the incident to her supervisors, which was tantamount to approaching authorities.
When hotel supervisors resisted her calls for action, she said, she fell into a yearlong battle with depression and anxiety, requiring several hospital and treatment center visits.
She contacted an attorney who pointed her in the direction of Mr. Dunlap.
For the last 10 years, Mr. Dunlap has been working with his partner, Monique Laxalt, the daughter of author Robert Laxalt and niece of Paul Laxalt, the former governor and U.S. senator from Nevada. They specialize in personal injury, malpractice, liability, criminal defense and insurance claims.
Dunlap & Laxalt is a two-person law firm, operating in a gray, two-story building that years ago must have been one of Reno's nicer downtown homes.
Visitors knock on the screen door and wait to be invited into the building, which, despite the clutter of a busy law office, retains the smooth wooden features of comfortable space.
On a wall, was a plaque honoring him as 2007 Nevada Trial Lawyer of the Year.
Once upstairs, Mr. Dunlap showed the personable traits that have brought him success before judges and juries. But he steadfastly refused to discuss the case in any detail or tip his hand as to what his approach might be.
"I've been on both sides of the arena," he said of the tug-of-war for information. "In the governor's divorce, for example, they wanted to close hearings and seal the filings. I challenged the constitutionality of it, and we won. So I've been a proponent of public access."
But this case is different, he said. His client does not want attention.
"We had nothing to do with this matter being public," Mr. Dunlap said. "The last thing we want is paparazzi."