published Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Affidavits prove deception in assault lawsuit, lawyer says


by Monica Mercer

Several affidavits indicate a former waitress at Big River Grille could be lying about being sexually assaulted by a local attorney.

The woman is asking for $500,000 in a lawsuit against Charles Lawson, claiming he "slammed" her against a wall and fondled her genitals while trying to enter the restaurant during the 2008 Riverbend Festival.

Mr. Lawson had specialized in sexual harassment law at the Chattanooga law firm Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C., but no longer works there.

The affidavits are part of Mr. Lawson's motion asking that a special Hamilton County Circuit Court judge throw out the case based on conflicting statements by the plaintiff and accounts of the supposed incident from co-workers in which they state it did not happen as she described.

It is Times Free Press policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assaults.

Kristen Wright, who was working at Big River on the night in question, stated in one affidavit the plaintiff was "acting happy and lighthearted" after the incident.

"She in no way appeared to be upset, offended, or frightened in any manner," Ms. Wright's affidavit states.

Another co-worker, Amber Kindred, states in her affidavit that the plaintiff actually was calling Mr. Lawson names such as "babe," "hon" and "sweetie." She also states that Mr. Lawson, who apparently was intoxicated, complied with the plaintiff's request that he not bring an open bottle of beer into the establishment.

But Ms. Kindred said she found out 45 minutes later that the plaintiff had complained to management about the encounter, something Ms. Kindred said she "could not understand," the affidavit states.

Ms. Kindred said the plaintiff then asked her a couple of days later to help her in a lawsuit against Mr. Lawson, promising to pay Ms. Kindred a portion of the settlement money the plaintiff anticipated receiving.

"I did not agree to go along with (the plaintiff's) plan because I did not think it was right," Ms. Kindred states in her affidavit.

Attorney Darren McBride, who represents the plaintiff, said Friday he had not seen the affidavits. But he said it is "obvious" Mr. Lawson would claim that his client is lying.

"I would be curious to know where all these (witnesses) were when he pleaded guilty in Hamilton County General Sessions Court," Mr. McBride said.

Originally charged with sexual battery, Mr. Lawson, 43, eventually pleaded guilty to simple assault. After six months of probation, the charge was expunged from his record as he had no prior criminal history.

Judge Thomas W. Graham in the civil matter has ruled that the criminal case cannot be admitted as evidence should the lawsuit go to trial.

Mr. Lawson's attorney, Chris Varner, is hoping that the plaintiff's three separate accounts of the incident will be struck from evidence as well, since they contain conflicting information, documents indicate.

The plaintiff's first written statement says nothing about being "slammed" against a wall, as she states in her lawsuit. A second oral statement she made to Big River management indicates Mr. Lawson allegedly banged her head on a door.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

PDF: Motion to dismiss the case

Article: Chattanooga: Witness says harassment never happened

Article: Chattanooga: Local sexual harassment attorney being sued for fondling waitress

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