On the Matter of Bringing a Civil Suit

Scale with gavel and money


I’m in a phase right now in which I’m feeling pretty hopeless about ever getting any movement on Patty Vance’s case. And by movement I mean someone getting charged with the crime of her murder. At some point I thought maybe a civil trial was the answer, but now I’m losing confidence in that idea. For one thing, unless there is a monetary gain to be had, I am told it is a waste of everyone’s time. Here’s an excerpt from Wikihow describing this one guideline in regards to bringing a civil trial:

Whether you can collect money from your opponent: you need to know whether or not you will be able to collect a judgment if you win your lawsuit. It will not be worth the money and time it takes to bring a lawsuit if your opponent doesn’t have any money or assets, because you will not be able to collect anything, even if you win. However, if money is no object, you may want to consider a lawsuit anyway in order to get validation that your opponent was wrong.

Then there’s a small problem of trying to prove there is a party that has suffered from Patty Vance passing. In other words, I’m doubtful that I even have the right to bring a civil suit against the man I’ve been told the police are almost 100% sure is the perpetrator. Perhaps I could bring the suit in the name of her son, Maurice. Ugh, it seems so complicated. It might be different if I was in touch with her son, or any family member for that matter.

It sort of irks me when I read about individuals bringing civil suits to the courts that had fists full of dollars, and clearly plenty of resources. I am happy for their victories, but I can’t help think that this isn’t a move that’s for those of us who have no dollars, and few resources. Here is a story I lifted from the azcentral.com about a civil trial that has recently made headlines: 

Death at a Beachfront Mansion

A jury in San Diego found Adam Shacknai responsible in the bizarre 2011 hanging death of Rebecca Zahau at a Coronado mansion.

After a monthlong civil trial, jurors deliberated for a few hours Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before awarding Zahau’s family more than $5 million in damages.

Far more important for Zahau’s mother and sister is a verdict they say vindicates their sister and contradicts investigations by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office and Sheriff’s Department, which found she committed suicide.

Zahau’s family attorney, C. Keith Greer, said after the verdict that he hoped investigators were paying attention. Shacknai, who was alone with Zahau at the 27-room beachfront mansion, sexually assaulted her, hit her over the head four times and hung her nude body from a courtyard balcony. Greer said Shacknai staged it to make it look as if Zahau killed herself.

Dan Webb, Shacknai’s lawyer, countered there was no evidence connecting him to the murder. Only Zahau’s fingerprints and DNA were found on the knives and the ropes she used to bind herself. He said Shacknai had been questioned and cleared by homicide investigators in Zahau’s death.

What San Diego Sheriff’s Department investigators found at the Spreckels Mansion on July 13 had the hallmarks of murder. Zahau’s lifeless and nude body was found below a courtyard a balcony. She was bound hand and feet. A shirt was stuffed in her mouth.

The rope noose cinched around her neck was tied to bedroom furniture inside the room. On the door of the bedroom, officers found a cryptic message in black paint: “She saved him. Can he save her?”

How the San Diego Sheriff’s Department were unable to prosecute him in a criminal trial is beyond me. How many people stuff shirts in their mouths before committing suicide.

Good for the Sahau family for not giving up. The question weighing on me is: Should I give up?


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