Attorney Claims Suicide Victim Audrie Pott's Father Is Not Biologically Related

Victim's family helped lobby the state Legislature to pass a law strengthening current anti-bullying laws, especially when technology allows harassment to easily be spread to a mass audience.

Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott, 15, tried to end her life by hanging herself in the bathroom of her bedroom at her mother's house in Los Altos Sept. 10, 2012. Photo by Sheila Sanchez
Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott, 15, tried to end her life by hanging herself in the bathroom of her bedroom at her mother's house in Los Altos Sept. 10, 2012. Photo by Sheila Sanchez
—By Bay City News Service 

A lawyer for a defendant in a wrongful death suit filed by parents of a Saratoga girl who committed suicide in 2012 after an alleged sexual assault by three teen boys claims that one parent cannot sue because he is not the girl's biological father.

Philip Pereira, a Sunnyvale attorney, alleged in an answer to the suit filed by the parents of the late Audrey Pott that plaintiff Lawrence Pott has no standing in the case.

Pereira, whose client is the parent of one of the teen boys who is identified only as John B., also claimed that prior to Audrie's suicide, she had "an altercation" with two other people not named in the suit that contributed to her decision to kill herself.

Pereira made the allegations in a document filed Dec. 27 in Santa Clara County Superior Court in the civil case bought by Audrey's parents last April charging the boys abused her sexually while she was passed out at a party on Sept. 2, 2012.

The three boys, then 16 years old, allegedly removed Audrey's clothing, wrote messages on her body with a felt pen and took and showed nude pictures of her to students at Saratoga High School, according the suit filed by Lawrence and Sheila Pott.

Audrey, 15, after learning about the photos and posting about her anguish on Facebook, hanging herself at her mother's Los Altos home on Sept. 10, 2012, went into a coma and died at a hospital two days later.

Pressure from families of bullying victims, including Potts' family, helped inspire the passage of  Assembly Bill 256, allowing for more disciplinary actions to be taken by schools when bullying is present — either on or off the campus.

The law, which goes into effect this month, applies when students use computers, smartphones and social media to perpetuate harassing and threatening behavior while away from the school campus.

The teen boys were arrested on suspicion of sexual battery and charged last April in juvenile court in San Jose, but activity in the case has not been made public because they are under 18 years old.

The Potts alleged in the wrongful death suit that Audrey killed herself because she became distraught over the incident at the party and the knowledge that the photos of her had been circulated.

In his answer, Pereira disputed the Potts' allegations that the incidents at the party and afterwards alone led to Audrie's suicide.

He claimed that other factors "were set in motion years before the events alleged" in the suit "and culminated immediately before the suicide with an altercation between Audrey Pott and two of her friends who are not named as defendants in this matter."

Pereira, without providing specific details, claimed that there was "an intervening and supervening event not involving" his client "that led to Audrey Pott's suicide immediately thereafter."

Pereira said in an interview that based on the court records from the Pott's divorce and other evidence he would not disclose, Lawrence Pott cannot sue Pereira's client because Pott is not Audrey's biological father.

Under law, it "is essential, that people who can bring unlawful death claims are blood relatives," Pereira said.

"It's a very harsh rule," Pereira said.

According to a trial brief filed by Sheila Pott's attorney Mary Simpson on April 25, 2006, included in the record of the couple's divorce case in Superior Court in San Jose, Lawrence and Sheila Pott married in 1992 but separated in 1996.

While the two were apart, Sheila "had an affair with an individual named Michael Lazarin," according to Simpson.

The Potts later reconciled "prior to the birth of their daughter Audrey Pott, born May 27, 1997," but then spilt up again for good in 2001, when Lawrence filed for divorce, according to Simpson.

On Dec. 19, 2003, Larazin "filed a paternity action seeking custody, asserting that he was a presumed father of Audrey Pott, who was then six years old," according to Simpson.

Lazarin asked the court to order a paternity screening and guidelines for child support payments, which Lawrence and Sheila Pott opposed, the lawyer reported.

Lazarin, in a petition to the court on Nov. 14, 2005, claimed he was Audrey's biological father and that he established a relationship with his daughter for more than six years until Sheila "cut (him) off from all contact" in December 2003.

After Lazarin filed his first paternity action in 2003, then-Judge Dolores Carr asked that Lawrence Pott become part of the case since Pott was listed as the father on Audrey's birth certificate, according to Lazarin's filing.

According to Simpson, the court dismissed Lazarin's petition because he did not prove his standing under state Family Code Section 7611 (d) that he "receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child."

Both Lazarin's 2003 petition and Pereira's filing from Dec. 27 each contain a quote from Judge Carr criticizing Sheila Pott during a 2005 court hearing.

"Ms. Pott, I would be remiss if I didn't look you in the eye and tell you what a mess you've made for many people...because in this court's view, having ballet lessons and piano lesions and private school is really nothing in terms of the kinds of consequences your behavior has brought on your daughter," Carr stated.

Robert Allard, the Potts' attorney, said in an emailed statement that the actions of the teen son of Pereira's client were the result of the boy's upbringing and that the case would have to be decided by a jury.

"Positions like this demonstrate the extent to which this child has been enabled over the years," Allard stated.

"It's no wonder how this all happened," Allard wrote. "When you have a coddled child whose parents refuse to hold him responsible for his actions, you will eventually be dealing with a tragedy."

"What this young man did was indefensible and the fact that these outlandish statements have now been made tell us that the only way that he and his family will learn their lesson is through a jury verdict," he stated.

The next court date for the Potts' wrongful death lawsuit is set for Jan. 28 at the downtown Superior Court at 191 N. First St. in San Jose, according to the court's website.

Copyright © 2014 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.
JoAn Smith January 06, 2014 at 06:13 PM
What a sad story.
Marilyn Leonard January 07, 2014 at 02:25 PM
Very, very sad, and it seems a rather harsh way to avoid justice.
old neighbor dude January 07, 2014 at 04:40 PM
Rich entitled people always act this way. This boy was entitled his whole life by his parents and now is the chance to teach him a lesson. Sadly, the parents are money grubbing douchebags who obviously don't care about their child or anyone else's.
Michelle McIntyre January 09, 2014 at 04:46 PM
This is the type of thing that gives lawyers a bad reputation. Here's what I believe from the news articles. A girl was a victim of a crime. The boys mentioned in this story committed this crime. They need to face punishment. Things need to be done to teach other kids not to commit this type of crime as well. All the other stuff going on to make the victim's family look bad is terrible but unfortunately a fact of life. I would absolutely not want to be the lawyer representing the criminals.


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