US appeals court to hear arguments over 2010 hush-money settlement of Ronaldo rape case in Las Vegas

FILE - Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo stands on the pitch during the team's English...
FILE - Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo stands on the pitch during the team's English Premier League soccer match against Norwich City on April 16, 2022, in Manchester, England. Lawyers for Ronaldo are headed back to court in a legal battle over the hush money he paid to a woman who accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments Wednesday, Oct. 4, on the woman's bid to overturn last year's dismissal of the civil suit. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)(Jon Super | AP)
Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 7:21 AM PDT
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — A United States appeals court planned to hear Wednesday from lawyers trying to revive a woman’s bid to force international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo to pay millions more than the $375,000 in hush money he paid her after she accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009.

An attorney for the woman is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the dismissal of the case in June 2022 and reopen the civil lawsuit she first filed in Nevada in 2018.

The appeal argues the federal court judge in Nevada erred in repeatedly rejecting the woman’s attempts to unseal and include as evidence the confidentiality agreement she signed in 2010 in accepting payments from Ronaldo.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appellate court isn’t expected to issue an immediate ruling after it’s scheduled to question attorneys for Ronaldo and his accuser, Kathryn Mayorga, during oral arguments Wednesday at a special sitting at the law school on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Mayorga gave consent through her lawyers, including Leslie Mark Stovall, to make her name public.

Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable and richest athletes in the world. He leads his home country Portugal’s national team and has played for the Spanish team Real Madrid, the Italian club Juventus, Manchester United in England and now plays for the Saudi Arabian professional team Al Nassr.

Las Vegas police reopened a rape investigation after Mayorga’s lawsuit was filed, but Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson decided in 2019 not to pursue criminal charges. He said too much time had passed and evidence failed to show that Mayorga’s accusation could be proved to a jury.

Mayorga, a former teacher and model from the Las Vegas area, was 25 when she met Ronaldo at a nightclub in 2009 and went with him and other people to his hotel suite. She alleges in her lawsuit filed almost a decade later that the soccer star, then 24, sexually assaulted her in a bedroom.

Ronaldo, through his lawyers, maintained the sex was consensual. The two reached a confidentiality agreement in 2010 under which Stovall acknowledged that Mayorga received $375,000.

In dismissing the case last year, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey in Las Vegas took the unusual step of levying a $335,000 fine against Mayorga’s lead lawyer, Stovall, for acting in “bad faith” in filing the case on his client’s behalf.

Stovall’s appeal on Mayorga’s behalf, filed in March, calls Dorsey’s ruling “a manifest abuse of discretion” and seeks to open the records and revive the case.

It alleges Mayorga wasn’t bound by the confidentiality agreement because Ronaldo or his associates violated it before a German news outlet, Der Spiegel, published an article in April 2017 titled “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Secret” based on documents obtained from what court filings called “whistleblower portal Football Leaks.”

Ronaldo’s lawyers argued — and the judge agreed — the “Football Leaks” documents and the confidentiality agreement are the product of privileged attorney-client discussions, there is no guarantee they are authentic and can’t be considered as evidence.