Legal expert explains what a ‘stay’ in the Vince McMahon civil lawsuit could mean

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The U.S. court system’s public access databases allow everyday people the ability to track what’s going on in any case. Or, at least, most of what’s going on. While the wrestling world continues to keep an eye on the sex trafficking lawsuit filed by former WWE staffer Janel Grant against Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitis, and her former employer, a recent development has brought on speculation about what could be next for the case.

Last week, news broke that the lawsuit would be put on a six-month pause (or “Stay of proceedings” in legal terms) due to a pending investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). It was previously known that McMahon was given a federal search warrant last summer for documents in relation to sexual abuse and trafficking, although it had been months without any word on the federal investigation prior to the recent courtroom development.

The news made many wonder what would be next for McMahon, with theorized options including the bombshell possibility of a criminal case being pursued against him. However, as University of Tennessee Knoxville law professor Alex B. Long told Pollock & Thurston, the best we can say currently is “Who knows?”

“My first response was, ‘Oh, [the] DOJ was thinking at least of bringing criminal charges and something has happened recently that makes DOJ want to have this stay issued so they can proceed,'” said Long, author of Professional Wrestling and the Law: Legal Battles from the Ring to the Courtroom. He then explained the wide range of hypotheticals that could be causing the stay: “Whether they are on the verge of indicting Vince [McMahon] and John Laurinaitis, whether they found some witness that hasn’t been referenced before who’s willing to talk to them. Maybe they’re trying to flip John Laurenaitis, who knows.”

A person in the U.S. can theoretically battle a civil and criminal case at the same time, as Long explained. But there’s often reason for one case to hold back the other. “I think the idea of the stay is just to try to keep the evidence separate,” he guessed.

For someone who has not witnessed a case face such a delay, they might wonder why it would happen or why an attorney would agree to the request. Long explained that it’s in the best interest of both the DOJ and Grant to work together and coordinate their investigations.

“As you might imagine, they [the cases] kind of intersect with each other and kind of interfere with each’s evolution and development a little bit,” Long said.

A delay of six months significantly slows the progress of Grant’s civil case against McMahon, Laurinaitis, and WWE. However, it could potentially provide help to the plaintiff, if a criminal case ends up proceeding first. Details from the criminal case could be used as evidence once the civil suit comes back around, and information out of one trial can be re-examined in the other, Long said.

“They can use the criminal process to help them discover the relevant facts,” he said. “They can also pin the defendants down on things that they said during the criminal hearing. If Vince or somebody testifies at trial that they said XYZ, and then they bring out the civil proceeding and Vince doesn’t say the exact same thing, he says something a little off, they can use that to go [and] impeach his credibility. There’s definitely an advantage for the plaintiffs in a civil proceeding to kind of let the criminal proceeding play out and then cherry-pick what comes out of that criminal proceeding for their own benefit.”

Long mentioned that if a criminal case were to be formally brought against McMahon, defendants in the civil suit would likely request a stay to prevent the case from beginning until afterward. “Criminal matters are going to take precedent,” he said.

There are still many different ways in which the lawsuit could play out. A criminal case could emerge and take full priority. The stay could expire without any extra word from the DOJ.  With little information to work with regarding why the stay was put in place, any possible option is still on the table. At the very least, six months down the line we’ll likely have an idea of what happens next.

About Jack Wannan 251 Articles
Jack Wannan is a journalist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He writes and reports on professional wrestling, along with other topics like MMA, boxing, music, local news, and more. He graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]