Children's Theatre wants to recoup $234,000 in lawyer bills from sex assault victim

Laura Stearns, who was allegedly assaulted as a child actor at the Children's Theatre Company, says the theater is asking her to pay for its legal fees.

Laura Stearns, who was allegedly assaulted as a child actor at the Children's Theatre Company, says the theater is asking her to pay for its legal fees. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Laura Stearns Adams was a student and child actor with the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis back in 1982, when she was cast in Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas. Opposite her, playing her love interest, was Jason McLean – a company actor.

In late spring of 1983, he sexually assaulted her. She was 15.

But by September of that year, McLean was not only still acting, but teaching classes for the theater. He was employed there, on and off, until 1986.

That’s all according to a complaint Stearns filed in Hennepin County District Court in 2015. According to the complaint, Stearns wasn’t his only victim. Several Jane Does – ages 14-16 at the time – also say they were assaulted.

She was one of 17 plaintiffs who filed suit over “the abuse they endured” at Children’s Theatre at the hands of McLean and others. She believes there may be many more who remain silent.

McLean was never charged, and he denied having abused anyone. But in January, after a 13-day trial, a jury ruled that McLean should pay Stearns $3.68 million. Stearns is dubious she’ll ever see it, with good reason. McLean packed up and moved to Mexico. Since this is a civil case and not a criminal one, he can’t be extradited.

The theater was found to be “negligent.” But it wasn’t on the hook to pay Stearns or the other victims anything.

Stearns’ lawyers filed for a mistrial on Friday, claiming some key testimonies were left out. But during a court hearing that same day, the theater asked a judge to order Stearns to pay for its nearly $234,000 in legal fees.

For Stearns, it was the “last straw.” On Saturday, she posted a long missive on Facebook calling for a boycott of the theater.

“I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing,” Stearns wrote. “But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand.”

She asked readers not to buy tickets, send kids to classes, audition, or accept jobs from the company. She asked those who work there to think about whether they want to “work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault.”

“Many of you are my friends,” she wrote. “Do you think this is right?”

On Sunday, the theater responded with its own Facebook post about her call to arms.

“With all respect to Laura, we disagree that such an action is appropriate or deserved,” it read. The post went on to say that theater leadership learned about Stearns’ abuse in 2015, that they were “in no way trying to ‘blame the victim,’” and that they believed her and supported “her desire to have the truth be known and justice done.”

But it said the verdict had fallen in the theater’s favor, and that its attorney had “NOT” asked for a judgment against Stearns – just to “determine what the proper cost is in [its] case.” As to whether or not Stearns will have to pay it… that, the post said, is for a later date.

“We hope fervently we never get to the point of having to make such a decision,” it said. The theater didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The final word, however, belongs to everyone watching this all play out on social media, and it’s not looking good for Children’s Theatre Company. Stearns’ post has been shared nearly 700 times, and the hundreds of comments call the theater’s actions “disgusting,” “utter insanity,” and “not okay.” Several have already voiced their intentions to join the boycott.

If the theater can’t hold onto its reputation, a few hundred thousand in legal fees are going to be the least of its problems. For Stearns, the fight is just beginning.

Here's Stearns' post in its entirety.