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Attorney for actor Danny Masterson alleges rape charges are politically motivated

The LA Times logo The LA Times 9/18/2020 Alex Wigglesworth, James Queally
a man wearing a suit and tie: Actor Danny Masterson, left, with his attorney, Tom Mesereau, on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. (Lucy Nicholson / Pool) © (Lucy Nicholson / Pool) Actor Danny Masterson, left, with his attorney, Tom Mesereau, on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. (Lucy Nicholson / Pool)

The attorney for Danny Masterson claimed Friday that rape charges filed against the actor were political in nature, motivated in part by the contentious district attorney's election set to take place in Los Angeles County this November.

During a brief court hearing that ended without Masterson entering a plea to charges that he raped three women in his Hollywood Hills home in the early 2000s, attorney Tom Mesereau went on a tirade, claiming that Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey filed the charges only after her opponent in the November election, ex-San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon, said he would have prosecuted the "That ’70s Show" actor.

But Gascon has never made such a comment. Max Szabo, his chief spokesman, noted that Gascon has previously criticized Lacey for not prosecuting Masterson earlier.

Mesereau declined to take questions from reporters after the hearing in L.A. County Superior Court. The attorney has filed a motion seeking to have the charges dismissed, and a hearing is set for Oct. 19.

"He is absolutely not guilty and we're going to prove it," said Mesereau, who famously defended singer Michael Jackson against child molestation charges.

Lacey's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Deputy Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller dismissed Mesereau's claims as "false" and speculative.

Masterson was arrested and charged with three counts of rape in mid-June following an investigation by Los Angeles Police Department detectives. He remains free in lieu of $3.3-million bail.

Prosecutors have accused Masterson of raping a 23-year-old woman in 2001, a 28-year-old woman in April 2003 and a 23-year-old woman between October and December 2003.

The women's claims first gained public notice in a 2017 civil suit. Masterson has repeatedly denied the claims and said they were motivated by the producer of an anti-Scientology television series. Masterson has identified himself as a practicing Scientologist.

“Obviously, Mr. Masterson and his wife are in complete shock, considering that these nearly 20-year-old allegations are suddenly resulting in charges being filed, but they and their family are comforted knowing that ultimately the truth will come out,” Mesereau said earlier this year.

Masterson's accusers all appeared in court Friday, huddling on the left side of the gallery with a few relatives and friends. They declined to speak with reporters outside the courtroom. Masterson was flanked by about 20 supporters in the hallway outside the courtroom, delaying the hearing as court staff struggled to handle the high volume of onlookers while maintaining social distancing requirements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The LAPD presented its case to the district attorney's office in April 2017, but prosecutors repeatedly asked for further investigation. Ultimately, the D.A.'s office reviewed allegations from five women, declining to bring charges in two cases. Prosecutors said they had insufficient evidence to bring charges in one of those cases, while the statute of limitations had expired in the other.

All three women in the criminal case have also joined in a civil lawsuit filed against Masterson in 2019 in L.A. County Superior Court, according to the women’s attorney, Brian Kent.

In that suit, four women accused Masterson of sexually assaulting them and said that after they came forward, the actor, along with affiliates of the Church of Scientology, sought to silence and intimidate them. The lawsuit contends that Masterson has worked as a field staff member for Scientology-related organizations.

One of the plaintiffs, Chrissie Bixler, alleged that while dating Masterson, he assaulted her “on more than one occasion” in late 2001 or early 2002, and that one of the attacks occurred while she was unconscious.

After Bixler reported the alleged assault to the LAPD in 2016, she claims in the lawsuit that she was stalked and threatened, purportedly by people affiliated with Scientology-related organizations. (The Times does not publish the names of alleged victims in sex crime cases unless they come forward publicly.)

Another woman who joined the lawsuit but opted to sue Masterson anonymously accused him of sexually assaulting her at his home in April 2003, a date that corresponds to one of the charges in the criminal case.

That woman alleged she became “very sick and disoriented” after drinking a beverage at Masterson’s home, according to the lawsuit. She said in the suit that after she began feeling ill, Masterson brought her into a bathroom, undressed her and sexually assaulted her in the shower.

Masterson’s lawyers have vigorously denied the lawsuit’s allegations, calling them “false and defamatory.” The attorneys have noted that the claims do not mention that the plaintiffs “all had long-standing relationships with Mr. Masterson.” The lawyers have also said that the “original claims” stemmed from “prior consensual relationships.”

"This lawsuit is nothing more than a publicity stunt," his lawyer Andrew Brettler wrote in an April court filing.

William Forman, an attorney for the Church of Scientology International, previously dismissed the claims made in the litigation.

“This baseless lawsuit will go nowhere because the claims are ludicrous and a sham,” Forman told The Times in 2019.

Masterson faces life in prison if convicted on all counts.

“From Day 1, I have denied the outrageous allegations against me," Masterson said in 2017. "I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one."

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