Cristiano Ronaldo Wins Six-Figure Settlement Over Bad-Faith Lawyering
Cristiano Ronaldo is projected to earn $117 million from salary and sponsorships during the 2022-23 season, per Sportico’s recent calculations. Last week, a federal judge in Nevada ruled that Ronaldo is owed an additional $334,637.50.
The six-figure dollar amount has nothing to do with soccer but improper conduct by an attorney who led a high-profile lawsuit against the global soccer star.
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“I don’t relish the need to sanction a lawyer,” U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey wrote in her order. “But when Kathryn Mayorga’s attorney, Leslie Stovall, Esq., 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 in a way that disqualification could not purge, I unenthusiastically dismissed it as a sanction for that bad-faith lawyering.”
Mayorga accused Ronaldo of raping and sodomizing her in his Las Vegas penthouse in 2009, an allegation that Ronaldo insisted was false. Ronaldo maintained that he and Mayorga engaged in consensual sexual acts. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated at several points and declined to bring charges. Ronaldo and Mayorga agreed to a settlement in 2010 wherein Ronaldo paid her $375,000 in exchange for Mayorga agreeing to drop her claims. Mayorga later argued the settlement was unenforceable on grounds that she lacked the legal capacity to sign because the incident caused her psychological distress.
Ronaldo, 38, contends the dismissal of the lawsuit did not sufficiently remedy his harm. He asserts he incurred $609,680 in unnecessary legal expenses rebutting accusations that improperly relied on Football Leaks, a website revealing sensitive and/or confidential emails, papers and other documents that were tied to prominent soccer figures and that led to cyber-hacking and extortion criminal charges. Additionally, Ronaldo said his worth, in the hundreds of millions, is not relevant in whether he should be reimbursed for unnecessary legal fees; what matters is that he spent money on attorneys to defend a lawsuit that “should not have been brought—at least not in this manner,” Dorsey wrote.
Though attorneys are expected to aggressively advocate for their clients, there are limits that can’t be crossed. Stovall, both Dorsey and a magistrate judge reasoned, acted reprehensibly by “deliberately” seeking out Ronald’s “hacked, internal, privileged communications” and then giving them to Mayorga, “ensuring that they would contaminate her memory and perception of events, and he built her complaint on their contents, as evidenced by plaintiff’s sworn verification.”
A federal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1927, authorizes judges to punish attorneys whose reckless conduct causes the opposing party to incur unnecessary expenses. Dorsey determined that Stovall should be on the hook to reimburse Ronaldo $334,637.50 for unnecessary legal expenses, and that Ronaldo’s demand for $609,680 was excessive.
In explaining her calculation, Dorsey concurred with Ronaldo that the case should not have been brought. She also agreed that Ronaldo paid attorneys to address “Stovall’s unnecessarily repetitive flurry of motions, objections, and baseless arguments” that amounted to “reckless, frivolous and intentionally harassing” conduct. But Dorsey questioned why Ronaldo “proceeded with discovery” and “waited more than a year to move to dismiss.” As the judge saw it, Ronaldo “shares at least part of the blame for this case dragging on for as long as it did although he had to recognize its dubious underpinnings.”
Ronaldo’s attorneys billed him at hourly rates ranging from $350 to $850 per hour. Dorsey concluded that while the higher end of those rates is “a bit higher than the average typically by courts in this district,” they are reasonable “in light of the circumstances presented in this case, inflation, and [attorney Peter] Christiansen firm’s experience and reputation in the legal community.” Dorsey also found it relevant that “this was a high-profile case that garnered significant media attention, involved serious—and at times criminal—allegations against the defendant, and required a time-consuming review of thousands of pages of hacked documents used to support plaintiff’s case … it was time consuming and likely required defense counsel to forego other business opportunities.”
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