A judge sets the timeline in the Bellar sexual abuse lawsuit as it moves toward trial

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A young women who has sued her parents and Athens County over the years of sexual abuse she allegedly suffered as a child may get her day in court.

But it’s going to be a while.

A timeline issued this week by a federal judge suggests that the soonest Serah Bellar’s lawsuit might go to trial is sometime in the spring of 2024.

The lawsuit was filed under the pseudonym Jane Doe in February. The defendants include Deborah and Robert Bellar, Serah’s parents, whom the lawsuit accuses of ignoring and covering up the alleged sexual abuse she suffered from her older brothers.

The parents are both serving time in prison after pleading guilty in March to criminal charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and endangering children.

Two of the Bellar’s sons were indicted on federal criminal charges, one for rape and the other for gross sexual imposition. Both made plea deals in which they avoided prison time.

The lawsuit accuses Athens County Children Services of failing to investigate several reports that children in the Bellar home were being sexually abused. This is why Athens County is named as a defendant.

It’s not unusual for civil cases to move slowly through court, sometimes taking several years to reach trial if they’re not settled first.

The judge in this case issued a preliminary pretrial order on Monday. Thomas Hodson, a retired Ohio trial judge, explained that this is a routine document that serves as a blueprint for the case as it moves toward a settlement or trial.

The order includes a series of deadlines. For example, discovery must be completed by Oct. 31, 2023. Discovery is the process in which attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants share with each other evidence they might present at trial.

The purpose of discovery is to make sure that one side in a case doesn’t get blindsided at trial by surprise evidence that it has no time to prepare to address.

Both sides in a case also have the right before trial to interview any expert witnesses the other side plans on using to present testimony. These interviews are called depositions, and the judge has set a Jan. 15, 2024, deadline for expert depositions in this case.

These deadlines may seem like a long way off, but Hodson said that given the volume of cases moving through the federal courts, there’s nothing unusual about the timeline the judge has set. It’s also possible the deadlines could be extended.

The judge also ordered the two sides to try and settle the case. A settlement demand on behalf of plaintiff “Jane Doe” has to made by April 28, 2023, and the defendants have to respond within a month. A settlement conference will be held in June 2023, in which both sides have to make a good faith effort to reach an agreement.

If they cannot agree on a settlement, the case will proceed to trial.