On October 29th, 2013, Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was accused of domestic violence by then-girlfriend Evgeniya Vavrinyuk. Fifty-three days later, the Denver District Attorney declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence. "That's not to say we don't believe our victim," said DA spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough to the Denver Post. "Most of the time additional investigation strengthens our case. This time it became clear we didn't have a belief we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt." The case was subsequently dropped and the incident soon fell from the forefront of the minds of Avalanche fans. However, due to wealth and profile of the accused, most believed a civil suit was inevitable. More than two years following the DA decision, all involved parties convened in a Denver County courthouse on Monday, January 25th, before a jury to decide if Varlamov was liable for damages.
What transpired in the following days was something straight out of a script for an episodic Hollywood court drama like Ally McBeal or The Practice. Household name witnesses took the stand, like Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog, and Patrick Bordeleau, and Avalanche Assistant General Manager Greg Sherman. There was emotional testimony, conflicting accounts, and numerous accusations of the plaintiff attempting to capitalize off the incident with an entertainment lawyer. These opposing stories were finally available to the public, ending all the backroom speculation from two years prior. Former Mile High Hockey writers/editors, AJ Haefele and Cheryl Bradley of BSN Denver, were on-site to provide details of the proceedings. Their daily accounts provide a fascinating insight into a sad and frustrating story that hung over the Avalanche franchise for 27 months.
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On February 2nd, attorneys from both sides finally made their closing arguments, and the jury -- who traveled through more than a foot of fresh snow to the courthouse -- were sent to the deliberation room to decide the outcome of the case. More than seven hours later, a decision had been made:
BSN were first to report the jury's findings:
Assault/battery in favor of Varlamov. Malicious prosecution counter claim in favor of Vavrinyuk. Abuse of process counter claim for Varlamov— BSNAvalanche (@BSNAvalanche) February 3, 2016
And not only that, but the plaintiff will now owe Varlamov's camp $126,000 as a result of her abuse of process.
Vavrinyuk owes Varlamov 126 thousand dollars for abuse of process.— BSNAvalanche (@BSNAvalanche) February 3, 2016
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This is certainly a great day for Varlamov and the organization.
However, I can't bring myself to celebrate.
Yes, the Colorado Avalanche have their star goalie back after two missed starts (tonight will be a third). Yes, he's been cleared by the city's District Attorney and now a grand jury of dubious charges. But the entire situation still makes me ill. First consider all the money spent the past two years investigating and prosecuting these allegations. Tens of thousands of dollars in city resources -- resources better allocated to the legitimate victims of domestic abuse -- all before a week-long civil trial that failed to yield punitive damages to the plaintiff. Consider this girl was very likely manipulated by an entertainment lawyer, who at minimum sold falsehoods to Russian papers for big commissions, but also could have inspired these discredited accusations in the first place. As frustrated as I am at the blatant opportunism of Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, I feel similar animus toward the lawyers giving her advice and the corrupt tort system they perpetuate. This entire process was an embarrassment to the profession.
More than anything, I'm angry for the 1.3 million American women who report domestic abuse annually, not in hope of restitution from a professional athlete, but for the safety and freedom they deserve as citizens. As we breathe a sigh of relief for this hockey player we cheer for, let's also take a moment to think about this very real and serious problem that exists in our society and how damaging this false accusation is to those who really need help.