Richard Kaplan talks to the Daily Journal about the implication of the charges against Alec Baldwin

Criminal charges might or might not help plaintiffs who sued Baldwin

Criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin could spell trouble for the movie star in civil actions he faces in Los Angeles stemming from the 2021 killing on the set of the film “Rust,” legal experts said.

“In a civil case, the burden of proof is less than it is in a criminal case,” said Mary E. Alexander of Mary Alexander & Associates PC. “So to get a conviction in a criminal case shows that a jury found that beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty.”
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altweis announced on Thursday that her office would pursue criminal manslaughter charges against Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in connection with the shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

“We want to thank the Santa Fe Sheriff and the District Attorney for concluding their thorough investigation and determining that charges for involuntary manslaughter are warranted for the killing of Halyna Hutchins with conscious disregard for human life,” said Brian J. Panish of Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi LLP, who represented Hutchins’ family in a now-settled lawsuit.

“Our independent investigation also supports that charges are warranted,” Panish continued. “It is a comfort to the family that, in New Mexico, no one is above the law. We support the charges, will fully cooperate with this prosecution, and fervently hope the justice system works to protect the public and hold accountable those who break the law.”
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, along with others involved in the production, also face civil charges in Los Angeles County Superior Court in cases brought by script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and chief lighting technician Serge Svetnoy, who witnessed the shooting. Mitchell v. Rust Movie Productions LLC et al., 21STCV42301 (L.A. Sup. Ct., filed Nov. 17, 2021), Svetnoy v. Rust Movie Productions LLC et al., 21STCV41392 (L.A. Sup. Ct., filed Nov. 10, 2021).

In a statement, Gloria Allred of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, who represents Mitchell, said that if Baldwin were found guilty of manslaughter in New Mexico, “we believe that would mean he is civilly liable in our lawsuit against him as well.”

Alexander, a personal injury attorney in San Francisco, noted that convictions for Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed in New Mexico could be used as evidence in the civil trials.
“It’s not automatic — the judge would have to make a decision — but evidence of a judgment, conviction of a felony, can be used to prove any fact that’s essential to the judgment, and that’s also true even if it’s nolo contendere or no contest,” she said.
Richard D. Kaplan of Kaplan Marino agreed that convictions in the criminal case would make the civil actions easier for the plaintiffs to win. However, those plaintiffs could face a tougher battle if Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are acquitted in New Mexico, the Los Angeles criminal defense attorney said.

“It would certainly mean in the civil cases that they’re not going to be able to, in all likelihood, prove an intentional act,” Kaplan said.

Wylie Aitken of Aitken Aitken Cohn said he doubted that criminal convictions could be used as evidence to secure civil convictions in California. “I don’t think what the jury decides is in any way going to be admissible,” the Santa Ana trial lawyer said.

“What may impact the civil case is obviously what evidence gets developed, and if it meets the appropriate standards in the civil case then the judge will have to decide which of that evidence that was admitted in the criminal case will theoretically be admitted in the civil case,” he continued. “But certainly not what the findings were or what the jury decided or anything of that nature, that would be totally inappropriate.”

Alexander agreed that discovery in the criminal proceedings could end up being helpful to the California plaintiffs.

“Sometimes DAs in a criminal case have more power and authority to get evidence than even we have in a civil case,” she said. “So it can be useful in just the progress that they’re making with discovering facts in the criminal case.”

Still, Kaplan said that stays in the civil cases pending resolution of the criminal charges could be the best move for the defendants.

“If I was representing one of the people charged, I would be advising them, ‘Don’t say anything at this point until the criminal case is resolved,’” he said.

Kaplan said he believes the involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin are “a reach.”

“I think certainly in Alec Baldwin’s case, it’s a very defensible case,” he said.

 

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