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Abuse allegations against Woody Allen prompt new legal questions

Alex Dobuzinskis
3 February 2014
Woody Allen is seen in this file photo taken at the Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles, California June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files
Woody Allen is seen in this file photo taken at the Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles, California June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Woody Allen contends that renewed accusations by the filmmaker's adopted daughter that he sexually abused her at age 7 are "untrue and disgraceful," a spokeswoman for the director said on Sunday, a day after her letter detailing the allegations shook up Hollywood.

Dylan Farrow, 28, the daughter of Allen's former girlfriend, actress Mia Farrow, challenged the acclaim the 78-year-old Oscar-winner has received in recent years, as she told her side of the decades-old case in an open letter published by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a friend of the Farrows.

The allegation that Woody Allen abused Dylan Farrow first surfaced around the time of his 1992 split with Mia Farrow. Allen wasn't arrested or prosecuted in the case. An investigation was conducted by court-appointed experts who did not find enough evidence to support a case against Allen.

"Mr. Allen has read the article and found it untrue and disgraceful. He will be responding very soon," spokeswoman Leslee Dart said in an email.

Legal experts said that if prosecutors felt there was enough evidence from Dylan Farrow, it may still be too late under U.S. law to bring a case against Allen in Connecticut, where the incident is alleged to have occurred at the Farrow home.

To get a jury to convict Allen, a prosecutor would need to show he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, based on evidence such as testimony from Dylan Farrow. That could present a high standard to overcome decades after the original allegations.

The passage of time has likely barred the possibility Allen could be prosecuted on sexual abuse charges, said Todd Fernow, a law professor at the University of Connecticut. Under Connecticut law, the statute of limitations for all but the most serious sexual crimes lasts for five years from when a police report is filed, which if applied to Dylan Farrow's claim of having been abused in 1992 would have run until 1997, Fernow said.

Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco in 1993 declined to bring charges against Allen and retired in 2003. He declined to speculate on Sunday about whether a criminal case could be brought based on the allegations Dylan Farrow has outlined.

But he added that whether the statute of limitations had passed would depend on several factors including the nature of the evidence and changes in the law in the past decade.

Maco said that he examined the question before he retired and did not believe then a criminal case was still possible. "When I left office, I was satisfied that the statute of limitations had long run in that case," he said.

AMID AWARDS SEASON

Dylan Farrow's open letter comes in the midst of the Hollywood awards season and after Allen received a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes ceremony, an honor that prompted negative comments about Allen from Mia Farrow and Dylan's brother Ronan Farrow.

"Blue Jasmine," the latest film from the critically acclaimed director best known for films like "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan," has three Oscar nominations and voting for the March 2 Academy Awards is due to begin February 14.

Allen is nominated at this year's Academy Awards for best screenplay for "Blue Jasmine," and the film is also up for best actress for Cate Blanchett and best performance by an actress in a supporting role for Sally Hawkins.

New York attorney Elkan Abramowitz, who represented Allen at the time of the investigation, appeared to place blame on Mia Farrow for the latest round of accusations, without naming her directly.

"It is tragic that after 20 years, a story engineered by a vengeful lover resurfaces after it was fully vetted and rejected by independent authorities," Abramowitz said. "The one to blame for Dylan's distress is neither Dylan nor Woody Allen."

A representative for Mia Farrow did not respond to requests for comment.

Mia Farrow and Allen split in 1992 amid revelations that Allen had an affair with Farrow's then 22-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, whom Allen married in 1997.

At the time of their break-up, Mia Farrow accused Allen of abusing Dylan, who had been adopted by Allen. The letter released by Kristof marks the first time Dylan Farrow has written publicly about the allegations, although she repeated the claim last year in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine.

In excerpts of the letter printed in the New York Times and online, Dylan Farrow wrote that Allen one day led her to an attic at their house when she was 7. "He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother's electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me," Dylan Farrow wrote.

CHALLENGING HOLLYWOOD

Dylan Farrow in her piece questioned why Allen, the winner of four Oscars, is widely revered and she publicly challenged stars who have appeared in his films, including Blanchett and co-star Alec Baldwin, asking them how they would feel if they had a child who suffered the abuse that she said she did.

Blanchett responded to the allegation at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, telling the blog Hollywood Elsewhere: "I mean, it's obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some sort of resolution and peace."

A spokesman for Alec Baldwin declined to comment.

Lena Dunham, the writer and actress behind the HBO show "Girls" who has apparently not worked with Allen, urged her followers on Twitter to read Dylan Farrow's account. "To share in this way is courageous, powerful and generous," Dunham wrote.

One avenue a prosecutor could explore is a 2007 law passed in Connecticut that, in effect, removed the statute of limitations for aggravated sexual assault of a minor. But it is not clear if the allegations against Allen would qualify for that most serious level, and even if they did the law probably could not be used retroactively, said Fernow, the University of Connecticut law professor.

David Shepack, the current state's attorney for Connecticut's Litchfield Judicial District which would have jurisdiction over the case, did not immediately return a call for comment on Sunday.

(Additional reporting by David Ingram in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)

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