Fort Lauderdale

Judge: Suit against FIU baseball star Garrett Wittels belongs in Bahamas


Special to The Miami Herald

The woman who accused college baseball star Garrett Wittels of rape three years ago will have to go to the Bahamas if she wants to pursue a civil lawsuit against him, according to a ruling filed in a Fort Lauderdale federal court on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn dismissed the case on grounds that the Bahamas would be a more convenient place to hold the trial. Cohn pointed out that key witnesses such as police officers and medical personnel all live and work in the Bahamas and could not be compelled to travel to Florida to testify.

The case in question stems from an alleged rape — for which Wittels and two of his friends, who were then in their early 20s, were acquitted — following a night of drinking and gambling at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas in December 2010. At the time, Wittels, a Florida International University baseball star, held the second-longest hitting streak in college baseball history at 56 games.

Laura Montgomery, who was four months shy of her 18th birthday, filed a civil lawsuit the following year, alleging that the hotel was negligent in serving her alcohol when she was still a minor and that her drinking subsequently led to her being raped in the hotel room where Wittels and his friends were staying during a trip to celebrate another friend’s 21st birthday.

Judge Cohn signed the order Wednesday that dismissed without prejudice the civil case against Jonathan Oberti, Robert Rothschild and Wittels, as well as the hotel’s parent company, Island Hotel Company Limited. It remains unclear whether Montgomery will appeal that ruling or proceed with the case in the Bahamas.

“Hopefully, this is the final nail in the coffin,” said lawyer Richard Sharpstein, who represents the three men. While he suspects the case is now closed, there is a chance it could be revived. “They have three choices,” Sharpstein says, “finally end this charade, appeal to the 11th Circuit, or file a case in the Bahamas. We vote for number one.”

Montgomery’s attorney, Bruce Udolf, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In her suit, Montgomery maintains she and a girlfriend were allowed to drink at the hotel’s Dragon’s Ultra Lounge despite showing identification indicating they were only 17 years old. The drinking age in the Bahamas is 18. After three drinks in the bar, she and her friend were “extremely intoxicated,” according to the facts stated in the dismissal order.

The document further states that at some point the two teens ended up at the men’s hotel room, where “two members of the group had vaginal intercourse with [Montgomery] and one of the group had her perform oral sex on him. [Montgomery] asserts that during these events, she was ‘semiconscious’ and ‘unwilling and effectively unable to consent to these actions due to her level of intoxication.’”

The accused, all college students at the time, told the Herald on a previous occasion that Montgomery and her friend told them they were also college students and that the sex was consensual. They also rebutted the statements Montgomery and her friend made to police. Judge Cohn quoted the defense’s argument that “police concluded the statements given by [Montgomery] and her friend did not match video surveillance captured by Atlantis Resort’s security system,” resulting in the Attorney General of the Bahamas acquitting them of the rape charges.

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