Staff File Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tonya Craft leaves Judge Marie Williams' chambers at the Hamilton County Circuit Courthouse after her custody hearing Monday.
Although former teacher Tonya Craft and her lawyers are "extremely happy" that a federal judge preliminarily shot down motions to dismiss their $25 million defamation lawsuit, there still is a long road ahead to win the case, they said.
"We wouldn't have filed this case if we didn't think we could win," attorney Scott King said Wednesday. "However, this is not the time to start dancing in chairs. It's rare that a case ever gets dismissed this early."
Ms. Craft, a former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher, broke down in tears in mid-May when a Superior Court jury in Catoosa County, Ga., acquitted her of 22 counts of child molestation and related charges.
By then she already had spent about $500,000 to defend herself and later would appear on news programs such as CNN's "Larry King Live" as the national media latched on to her story.
Less than two weeks after the acquittal, Ms. Craft pursued financial damages against 15 defendants, including ex-husband Joal Henke and the entire Catoosa County government, filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in North Georgia for what she claims were false criminal allegations concocted to ruin her career and reputation.
Filed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy's first significant order in the civil battle denies all motions to dismiss the lawsuit, but it also requires Ms. Craft to file an amended complaint within two weeks that more fully explains how each of her accusers supposedly harmed her.
"(Ms. Craft) simply alleges that Defendants conspired to violate her constitutional rights," Judge Murphy writes in his order. "The complaint contains very few allegations that describe what each defendant allegedly did."
The defendants, who all accused Ms. Craft in 2008 of molesting her own daughter and two others, can file additional motions to dismiss the case once a more descriptive complaint is filed, Judge Murphy's order states.
Mr. King said they all along had planned to file an amended complaint that goes into greater detail about how the defendants conspired to ruin Ms. Craft. For now they are alleging, among many other things, that the parents of the so-called victims and even the child therapists involved conspired to "manipulate" the children to make false claims of molestation.
Each defendant has filed a response to the lawsuit, denying the allegations and stating Ms. Craft is not entitled to any legal relief.
Mr. King said that, while certain defendants may settle or possibly even could win future motions to dismiss as the case continues, Ms. Craft and her entire legal team are "fully prepared" to present their arguments to a federal jury.
Online: Read the judge's order in the case. Read previous stories.