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Rick Butler attorney labels lawsuit ‘hearsay within hearsay,’ wants it tossed

Rick Butler, a nationally renowned club coach from Chicago who is offering a high school clinic with one of his former players, watches a scrimmage and instructs players from the sidelines during the first day of volleyball camp at Abbott Sports Complex on Monday, August 4, 2014.

A lawsuit accusing powerhouse youth volleyball coach Rick Butler of sexually abusing teenage girls in the 1980s made national headlines earlier this year. And publicly, Butler and his wife have had little to say about it. | Stacie Scott/Lincoln Journal Star

A lawsuit targeting embattled suburban youth volleyball coach Rick Butler is filled with “inexcusably false accusations” and should be thrown out, his lawyer says.

It improperly tries to force Butler to “admit to a crime he has fervently denied for nearly three decades” and could even create a dangerous precedent, she insists.

That’s because “no reasonable person expects a business to affirmatively disclose past allegations made against its employees before entering into a contract for services.”

Attorney Danielle D’Ambrose made those comments in a 38-page document filed late Monday night asking U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly to toss the lawsuit against Butler. It amounts to the first substantive response to a complaint filed in February, which generated damaging headlines for Butler around the country.

BACKGROUND: The Chicago Sun-Times series on coach Rick Butler

Rick Butler hit with class-action lawsuit over sexual abuse claims

Rick Butler accusers tell state lawmakers he threatened victims into staying quiet

It also arrived just hours before two of Butler’s accusers, Sarah Powers-Barnhard and Julie Romias, were set to speak to state lawmakers in Springfield.

The proposed class-action lawsuit filed by Laura Mullen claims Butler deceived parents and youth athletes to get them to join his club and “used his position of power to sexually abuse no fewer than six underage teenage girls.” It also claims his wife, Cheryl Butler, concealed the abuse by pressuring and threatening victims.

Mullen, whose daughters once played for Butler’s Sports Performance Volleyball club in Aurora, insists she never would have signed her daughters up to play for Butler had she known about the allegations that have dogged him since the mid-1990s. She said in her lawsuit she only learned of them last year.

Butler has denied sexually abusing anyone. He has conceded he had sex with Powers-Barnhard, Romias and another former player, Christine Tuzi. But he said that was only after they were no longer minors and were no longer on his team.

D’Ambrose noted in her filing that, “the legal age of consent in Illinois was 16 years old until 1988, therefore, statutory rape laws are inapplicable.” Butler’s named accusers have said he abused them when they were 16 or 17 in the 1980s. However, the lawsuit also claims Butler raped a woman when she was a high school sophomore in the same decade. She has been identified only as “Jane Doe.”

D’Ambrose characterized many of the detailed allegations in Mullen’s lawsuit as “hearsay or hearsay within hearsay.” She said it “does not include a single allegation of sexual misconduct taking place after 1990.” And she said Mullen “received the benefit of the bargain” when her daughters played for Sports Performance.

“She received the training she paid for, her daughter received a scholarship, and she admits to entering into multiple, successive contracts with Defendants,” D’Ambrose wrote.

Since the start of 2018, Butler has been banned by the Amateur Athletic Union and the Junior Volleyball Association. USA Volleyball, the sport’s national governing body, also announced a ban in January.

That all came more than 20 years after USA Volleyball first banned Butler from its ranks in 1995, after Powers-Barnhard, Romias and Tuzi first made their allegations. The claims of another Butler accuser, Beth Rose, were first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in the November series “Net Pains.”

The coach has never been charged with a crime, though his accusers say the relevant statutes of limitations had expired before they came forward.