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Luster Is Hit With a 3rd Civil Lawsuit

A Placer County woman joins two others seeking millions from the rapist, the great-grandson of cosmetics magnate Max Factor.

June 26, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

Although his criminal trial ended months ago, rapist Andrew Luster's legal troubles are far from over.

Civil lawsuits filed by two women whom Luster knocked out with sedatives and raped in front of a video camera are scheduled to go to trial next month in Ventura County Superior Court. The women are seeking millions of dollars in damages for infliction of emotional distress and humiliation, and they are not alone.

Three weeks ago, a Placer County woman also filed suit against Luster, alleging that she too was drugged and raped by the 39-year-old great-grandson of cosmetics mogul Max Factor at his Mussel Shoals house.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks $10 million in damages, the woman learned five months ago that detectives had found sexually explicit photographs of her during a July 2000 search of Luster's home. The pictures were shown to jurors during Luster's trial, but the woman had not been identified at the time.

According to the lawsuit, the woman had socialized with Luster before his arrest July 18, 2000, and lost consciousness at his home. She now believes Luster drugged, raped and photographed her in sexual poses.

Luster was convicted in January of drugging and raping three women: a university student whose complaint launched the sex assault case and the other two women, known as Shawna and Tonja Doe, who are suing.

Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said Wednesday that law enforcement officials are investigating whether the Placer County woman was a fourth victim. "We are aware of the matter, and we are investigating it," Fox said.

Meanwhile, the three women are pressing forward with separate civil lawsuits intended to take from Luster whatever wealth he has accumulated through investments and a family trust.

"Andrew Luster had two things going for him," said Beverly Hills attorney Barry Novak, who represents Shawna Doe. "He had his freedom and he had his wealth. The criminal [trial] took away his freedom. On the civil side, hopefully we will be able to bite into his future legacy, as it were."

According to testimony in the criminal trial, Luster raped Shawna Doe, then a 17-year-old Oxnard-area high school student, in December 1997 after giving her a drink laced with gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB.

At trial, prosecutors played a videotape labeled "Shawna GHBing," during which the girl is seen passed out on a bed. She can be heard snoring loudly while Luster pinches her breasts and twice engages in sexual intercourse. During the recording, Luster mugs for the camera and states: "This is exactly what I want, a passed-out beautiful girl. Look at that."

In August 2001, a year after she learned of the tape, Shawna Doe sued Luster for sexual battery, rape, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The lawsuit states that she has suffered extreme mental anguish, humiliation, pain and suffering.

In response, Luster denied the allegations in court papers, saying that Shawna voluntarily engaged in sexual activity and any negligence resulted from her failure to "exercise ordinary care on her own behalf in the management and maintenance of her own person."

During the criminal trial, Luster asserted that Shawna was pretending to be asleep while making a porn movie.

Shawna's lawsuit and a similar suit filed by victim Tonja Doe were stayed pending the outcome of the criminal trial. Luster fled those proceedings Jan. 3 and was found guilty in absentia. Not long afterward, the stay on the two civil cases was lifted.

With his client on the run, Ontario attorney Frank Lizarraga asked to be removed from the cases. The request was granted last month, leaving Luster, who was apprehended June 18 in a Mexico resort town, without representation and facing July 28 trial dates.

Earlier this week, judges presiding over Tonja and Shawna Doe's cases issued separate orders demanding that Luster appear for depositions at Wasco State Prison, where he is incarcerated.

Luster's flight has placed him at a disadvantage in civil court. Not only will jurors be allowed to consider his criminal conviction and view the rape videotapes, but Luster's failure to respond to court papers has resulted in at least one significant judicial ruling against him.

Novak, Shawna Doe's attorney, prepared a list of 42 admissions that he wants jurors to consider as facts. They include assertions that Luster is the great-grandson of Max Factor, that his net worth is more than $20 million and that he drugged Shawna Doe and forced sex on her while she was unconscious.

Because Luster was a fugitive and did not respond to Novak's list, the attorney asked Superior Court Judge Fred Bysshe to deem the admissions true for purposes of trial. Bysshe granted the motion June 9, nine days before Luster was apprehended.

"Those are powerful weapons," Novak said of the admissions.

"And that is the problem he faces for fleeing the jurisdiction and not taking care of business here."

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