Lawsuit Seen Likely Against Winston

MIAMI (AP) – Jameis Winston avoided criminal charges after a woman said he sexually assaulted her. But the Florida State quarterback can’t seem to move on from the case as a possible civil lawsuit and potential punishment from the university looms ahead.

The bottom line: it’s not over.

Legal experts say the woman has four years from the December 2012 encounter to file a lawsuit against Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and current leader of the top-ranked and defending national champion Seminoles. The case could also be settled out of court.

That could mean that she’ll seek a chunk of the millions of dollars he could command in a future NFL contract. Winston has made no decision about his timing on the draft, but could decide to declare next year.

“I’m not sure that she will ever lose her leverage until the statute of limitations runs out,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami.

One of the woman’s attorneys, Baine P. Kerr, said in an email that there are “no ongoing settlement discussions at this time” with Winston and that a potential lawsuit remained an open question.

Winston also is being investigated by Florida State for a possible student code of conduct violation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is looking into how the Florida State handles sexual assault cases.

Winston was not charged in the sexual assault case in December 2013 by Florida prosecutors, who cited inconsistencies and flaws in the evidence and in the woman’s memory. Winston has denied any wrongdoing but the accuser’s family and previous attorney sharply criticized the quality and timing of the investigation.

The Associated Press has not named Winston’s accuser because it does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault. The woman has not made her name public.

Weinstein pointed out that in a civil lawsuit, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence – essentially, more likely than not – rather than the much tougher standard needed to convict in a criminal case. There, it must be clear that a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Florida State’s investigation, Winston could be subjected to a broad range of penalties ranging from a reprimand to expulsion from the university – and from the football team. That’s assuming he remains in school and does not declare for the 2015 NFL draft after this season.

“While Winston is in school, the hearing board has real teeth,” said Robert Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University law professor. “Once Winston leaves school, the hearing board loses much of its teeth.”

Kerr said the woman has already been interviewed by a university board and that results should be finalized soon. “There are no reasons it should not move forward expeditiously in the coming weeks,” he said.

Citing student confidentiality laws, Florida State has not commented on the investigation or its timing.

Attorney David Cornwell, who is serving as an adviser to the Winston family, has said the quarterback is cooperating with the code of conduct probe. Cornwell did not immediately respond to an email seeking further comment Thursday.

Winston can appeal any conduct violation and remain a Florida State student until that runs its course, according to the school’s code of conduct documents. A violation could also affect whether Winston could ever obtain his college degree from the university, legal experts said.

“That’s going to affect him more after his career is over,” Weinstein said.