SLO judge says alleged rape victim of ex-Paso Robles cop can file lawsuit against city

A San Luis Obispo judge on Wednesday published a tentative ruling that found a woman who claims she was raped by a Paso Robles police officer could sue the city for damages despite failing to meet the usual statute of limitations.

But on Thursday, after hearing verbal arguments from two attorneys for the city and an attorney for the alleged victim, Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett opted not to formally adopt her ruling, but would leave the matter submitted while she further reviewed the law in the case.

The tentative ruling published Wednesday essentially found that the alleged rape victim was justifiably delayed in filing her civil lawsuit because she had placed her faith in the criminal investigation against former police sergeant Christopher McGuire, whom the Sheriff’s Office recommended face charges of forcible rape.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the officer, however, who had by then resigned from the city.

“(The woman) alleges to have been through a very traumatic ordeal, further compounded by her assisting the Sheriff’s Department with its investigation,” Garrett wrote. “Given that charges were not pursued against Mr. McGuire, it is reasonable that (she) would be reluctant to immediately explore any other avenues of recourse for her trauma.”

McGuire is accused of raping the woman — whom The Tribune is not identifying — in her home after initially coming into contact with her while responding to a domestic violence call. An investigation by the Sheriff’s Office found at least three women alleged that McGuire assaulted and harassed them, or engaged in misconduct in their presence.

While the Sheriff’s Office concluded the officer should be prosecuted for forcible rape, attempted forcible rape, and assault and battery, District Attorney Dan Dow in November announced that he would not pursue any charges against the officer, citing a lack of evidence the sex wasn’t consensual.

In April, the California Attorney General’s Office announced in a letter to the alleged rape victim’s civil attorney that their office would review Dow’s decision.

After Paso Robles rejected the alleged victim’s claim for damages, she would normally have been able to file a lawsuit in court. But because the statute of limitations on such a claim — six months — she needed to petition the court to be released from the typical claims process and its limitations.

In writing Wednesday, Garrett approved just that, though the ruling has to be formally adopted at a hearing scheduled Thursday.

In her ruling, Garrett notes that the woman was represented by Ilan Funke-Bilu, a criminal attorney who acted as her counsel under Marsy’s Law, during the Sheriff’s Office investigation and didn’t consult a civil attorney.

“(She) asserts that she believed her only recourse was in the criminal arena, and that it was the criminal investigation into Mr. McGuire that ‘emotionally triggered’ (her) and caused her to contact a civil attorney for the first time,” Garrett wrote.

In its opposition, the city of Paso Robles argued that any trauma the woman faced did not excuse her from the deadline. The city argued that the woman “was able to function in daily life and was able to seek out legal counsel as evidenced by her retention of Ilan Funke-Bilu.”

“That (she) was able to retain a well-known local criminal defense lawyer does not evidence that she was ‘able to function in daily life,’” Garrett wrote. “(She) relied on her criminal defense attorney, which would be expected of a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances.”

Garrett noted that once the woman retained high-profile civil attorney Brian Claypool, that attorney filed a request to present a late claim. The judge found that the delay of two months between the time the alleged victim consulted with a civil attorney and when she filed her request was not prejudicial to Paso Robles.

The city in its opposition noted that McGuire has resigned and moved away from the city, and that, without a pending claim, there is no basis to compel their former employee to speak with city administrators or attorneys.

“Here, the alleged incidents giving rise to (the woman’s) claim occurred approximately 1.5 years ago,” the city’s attorneys wrote. “Because of plaintiff’s delay, the city has been denied the opportunity to investigate the allegations while evidence and witnesses were fresh.”

“Although the city contends Mr. McGuire has moved out of the area and it has no means of compelling his participation in this action, the court has such means at its disposal,” Garrett wrote in response.

On Thursday, Garrett heard arguments from Paso Robles’ attorneys Michelle Gearhart and Joshua George, who argued that, while they said they understood the seriousness of the allegations, the woman missed the statute of limitations to file a claim and then a petition for a late claim with the city.

Gearhart said the court doesn’t have the legal authority to override the statute, saying that to do so would be a “manifest abuse of discretion.”

Claypool argued that his client has a sound argument to be released from the administrative claims process because the statute of limitations expired while she was cooperating with criminal investigators.

After arguments, Garrett said she would take the matter under further review and set an upcoming hearing date.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.