A lawyer has been hit with a 335,000-dollar (£278,000) penalty for pressing a bid in US courts to force Cristiano Ronaldo to pay millions more than the 375,000 dollars (£311,000) in hush money he paid to a Nevada woman who claimed he raped her in Las Vegas in 2009.
“I find that Ronaldo would not have incurred a majority of the fees and costs that he spent on this litigation absent plaintiff’s counsel’s bad faith,” US District Judge Jennifer Dorsey said in a scathing 18-page ruling.
The judge in Las Vegas held Kathryn Mayorga’s lawyer, Leslie Mark Stovall, personally responsible for paying Ronaldo’s lawyers, led by Peter Christiansen and Kendelee Works.
Mr Stovall did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages about the ruling.
In a related case, a Nevada state court judge, who nearly made long-sealed and long-fought documents public by mistake in August, rejected Mr Stovall’s bid for a court order to unseal crucial documents, including a Las Vegas police report about Ms Mayorga’s rape complaint against the Portuguese football star.
“The decision regarding confidentiality is final,” Clark County District Court Judge Jasmin Lilly-Spells said in her ruling.
Judge Lilly-Spells pointed to Judge Dorsey’s earlier decisions to shield from public view the results of police investigations, a 2010 confidentiality agreement between Ronaldo and Ms Mayorga and allegedly stolen records of attorney-client discussions between Ronaldo and his lawyers.
The New York Times began a fight to release the records before Judge Dorsey in federal court and the Las Vegas Review-Journal took the case to Judge Lilly-Spells in state court.
Mr Christiansen welcomed the federal and state court rulings and earlier findings in the case by a US magistrate judge in Las Vegas, saying they showed “hard-working judges don’t allow lawyers to abuse the system”.
But the rulings are not quite the end of more than four years of legal battles.
Mr Stovall is asking the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to overturn Judge Dorsey’s dismissal last June of Ms Mayorga’s civil lawsuit, filed in September 2018 in state court and moved in January 2019 to federal court.
If Mr Stovall also appeals against the monetary sanction, the appellate judges might consider the matters together.
Ms Mayorga is a former model and teacher who lives in the Las Vegas area. Her lawsuit said she met Ronaldo at a nightclub and went with him and other people to his hotel suite, where she alleged he assaulted her in a bedroom. She was 25 at the time and he was 24.
Ronaldo, now 38, is one of the most recognisable sports stars in the world. He has captained the Portuguese national team and played professionally for European giants Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
In December he accepted a lucrative offer to end his second stretch in Manchester United and play for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr. The deal could pay him up to 200 million dollars (£166 million) per year until June 2025, according to media reports, which would make him the highest-paid football player in history.
Ms Mayorga’s lawsuit alleged Ronaldo or his associates violated the confidentiality agreement they reached almost a decade before German news outlet Der Spiegel in 2017 published an article titled “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Secret”, based on documents obtained from “whistleblower portal Football Leaks”.
Mr Stovall maintained Ms Mayorga never wanted to be named publicly and did not break the hush-money settlement. Her lawsuit sought to void it, accusing Ronaldo and his representatives of conspiracy, defamation, breach of contract, coercion and fraud.
In documents filed in 2021, Stovall tallied damages at 25 million dollars (£20m) plus lawyers’ fees.
Mr Christiansen and Ms Works fought on several fronts for years to keep the confidentiality agreement out of public view. They alleged Mr Stovall improperly used Ms Mayorga to try to capitalise on Ronaldo’s fame and fortune.
Mr Stovall argued that Ms Mayorga, now 39, had learning disabilities as a child and was so pressured by Ronaldo’s lawyers and representatives that she was in no condition to consent to dropping a criminal complaint she filed shortly after her encounter with Ronaldo and accepting the 375,000 dollars.
Ronaldo’s legal team does not dispute Ronaldo met Ms Mayorga and they had sex in June 2009, but maintained it was consensual and not rape.