- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

RICHMOND (AP) The Virginia Supreme Court will take a look at a case involving sovereign immunity.
The state's highest court agreed to hear an appeal by a woman whose lawsuit was dismissed by a lower court. She claimed she was raped by an Alexandria police officer.
Robby Niese, 42, of Alexandria, filed a lawsuit against the city in August 2000 seeking $13.5 million for her claim that Raleigh Harsley, 53, raped her on four occasions between Sept. 1 and Oct. 9, 1998.
The lawsuit also claimed that a city mental health worker failed to report the rape accusation.
Circuit Judge Alfred D. Swersky in July dismissed the claim from the lawsuit, ruling that the city had sovereign immunity as a governmental entity and thus was free from liability.
Miss Niese's attorney, Kenneth Weiner, brought his client's case to the high court on Dec. 13, and the judges agreed Thursday to hear the appeal.
City Attorney Ignacio B. Pessoa said he feels confident that the trial court's ruling will be affirmed by the state court.
"The fact that the appeal was granted just means the court will hear the case," Mr. Pessoa said.
Mr. Pessoa said the trial court never heard the merits of Miss Niese's lawsuit and the case was dismissed based only on the question of the city's liability.
"We never got to the basis of her claim," Mr. Pessoa said. "But we would prevail there as well. The officer was acting out of the scope of employment, and the city would not be liable for that."
According to the lawsuit, Miss Niese met Mr. Harsley in June 2000, when he agreed to help her son make the T.C. Williams High School football team. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Harlsey raped Miss Niese on four occasions, even though she tried to cut off all relations with him after the first incident.
Miss Niese first reported the rape to an employee at a city mental health clinic, the lawsuit states. The worker violated state law by failing to report the incident to law enforcement, the lawsuit added.
The state code requires health care providers, including physicians and nurses, to report cases of rape, abuse and neglect to law enforcement when patients do not have the mental capacity to advocate for themselves.
The lawsuit says Miss Niese became "terrorized, shocked, emotionally distraught and overwhelmed with fear," and didn't have the capability to act on her own behalf.
Dr. William Claiborn, director of the city's Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Department, which oversees the city's mental health clinics, said he would not comment on the case. But he said the law is directed at the elderly, who could be victimized if they become mentally incapacitated, not at the average person seeking counseling.
Miss Niese's claim against Mr. Harsley is still pending in Alexandria Circuit Court. Mr. Harsley was dismissed from the police department in February.

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