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Setback for volleyball coach Rick Butler in lawsuit alleging sexual abuse

Rick Butler

Rick Butler during a volleyball camp in 2014. | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

Suburban volleyball coach Rick Butler has suffered another setback as he tries to fend off a potentially damaging lawsuit in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly on Friday granted class certification to the lawsuit filed last February by Laura Mullen, which alleges Butler sexually abused six girls who mostly played at his Sports Performance Volleyball Club in the 1980s.

However, Kennelly narrowed the scope of class members to “all individuals who paid money to the defendants for youth volleyball instruction through the Sports Performance program provided by or through GLV Inc. in the State of Illinois between February 27, 2013 and January 10, 2018.”

Mullen claims Butler and his wife deceived her into signing her daughters up for their volleyball club by covering up allegations of sexual abuse in Butler’s past.

In reaching his decision, Kennelly shot down in a 20-page opinion several arguments made by Butler’s lawyers. Among them were claims about Mullen’s credibility and the conduct of her lawyer, Jay Edelson.

The judge’s opinion said Mullen signed a waiver of claims against Butler’s company, GLV Inc., so her daughter could participate in a volleyball league that took place at one of its facilities. Kennelly concluded the document related to the girl’s “future participation in a volleyball league, not a backward-looking liability release.”

Still, he didn’t rule out the possibility that it could ultimately be an issue in the case.

Butler’s lawyer also pointed out that Edelson represents a man being sued for defamation by the biological mother of Butler’s adopted son. Edelson has served Butler with a subpoena for a deposition in that case.

“The court finds no basis to conclude that Edelson’s conduct was even objectionable,” Kennelly wrote.

In his opinion, the judge also wrote that many of the claims brought against Butler by Mullen will require her to prove Butler’s deceit.

“Proving deceit in this case necessarily requires Mullen to show that the underlying sexual-abuse allegations against Rick Butler are true,” Kennelly said.

Butler has been dogged by sexual abuse allegations for decades. He denies them. But Sarah Powers-Barnhard, Julie Romias and Christine Tuzi allege Butler sexually abused them in the 1980s while he was their coach and they were under 18. The Sun-Times first reported the allegation of another accuser, Beth Rose, in the series “Net Pains.” Further allegations surfaced in Mullen’s lawsuit.

Though Butler has said he “never sexually abused any individual,” he has conceded he had sex with Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Tuzi. He said that happened after they were no longer minors and no longer on his team.

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