The civil case against physician Gerard Abate, accused in a suit of deceiving and raping a woman at his Palm Coast condo in 2017, has been redirected to a more ordinary trial track after taking a bizarre turn for the 18 months Abate did not contest the charges against him.
A woman known only by her initials, M.D. filed suit against Abate in June 2021, accusing him of posing as a single man on a dating site, when he was married, drugging and raping her at his condo, and exposing her to a sexually transmitted disease. She is seeking damages of upward of $30,000.
Until last Dec. 15, Abate did not contest the charges. A circuit court judge granted a default final judgment on liability as a result. That meant the plaintiff could move on to the trial phase where a jury would decide how much, if any, damages she would be entitled to. That trial was scheduled to start today. It would have been the rarest of trials, with only one side represented. No rebuttals, no counter-arguments.
But on Dec. 15, Abate, though his attorneys, filed a motion to quash the default order. Abate argued that he had never been served. He included pictures of himself and his girlfriend, along with other documents tracing his whereabouts, in St. Croix at the time when a process server was supposed to have served him the lawsuit at a home in new Jersey. Abate contested that whoever was served in New Jersey was not him.
The court scheduled an evidentiary hearing, also scheduled for today, to sort it all out. It would have taken place before Circuit Court Judge Chris France.
But again, in a case characterized by twists and turns, the hearing was cancelled when, last week, both sides’ attorneys agreed to the defense’s contention, and to setting aside the court’s order on liability. The judge signed that stipulation.
It was as much a concession by the plaintiff’s attorneys that Abate may well not have been served as it was a concession by Abate and his attorneys that–well, he now has been served. “By agreement of the parties,” the latest order states, and as of last week, Abate “submits himself to the personal jurisdiction of this Court and waives service of process.”
It is as if the entire case was starting from a little bit after zero–as if M.D. had just filed her complaint, and Abate has 30 days to file a response.
France signed the order on Friday (Jan. 20). The clock started then. Abate and his attorneys have until Feb. 20 to file a response to the original lawsuit, putting the case back on the ordinary track of pre-trial wranglings, which can stretch for months or years. There appears to have been no penalties for either side regarding the 18-month trajectory of the case until the judge’s latest order.
Just as ordinarily: the case could yet be resolved with a settlement out of court. Whether and how Abate’s attorneys respond to the lawsuit in the next 30 days will be a potential indication of the case’s next direction. The only certainties for now are that the case is moving forward, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Abate is represented by William J. Scott of Jacksonville. M.D. is represented by Michael Dolce of Palm Beach Gardens.
Both the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office documented M.D.’s claims against Abate, but neither filed charges. The woman reported the allegations to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on April 30, 2019. The agency passed on the report to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, since the alleged incident took place in this jurisdiction.
The alleged victim told a Flagler County Sheriff’s detective that she and Abate had met on Ashley Madison, the dating website whose trademarked tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” with additional enticements like “When monogamy becomes monotony,” “Rooted in desire,” and “The first married dating website.” M.D. told the detective that Abate portrayed himself to her as single, and continued to do so through September 2018, when she found out he was married and living in Pennsylvania at the time he owned the condo in Palm Coast.
Abate’s wife filed for divorce shortly after the lawsuit by M.D. was filed in Flagler. The divorce was finalized several months later, with Abate ceding the Palm Coast property to his then-ex wife.
The woman reported to the Flagler detective that, according to the sheriff’s report, “she broke off the relationship after she went to therapy and her friends said that things were not adding up. She even looked up sexual assaults and believes he kept her around so that she wouldn’t report it.” The detective inquired about the allegation of a sexual assault, to which she responded–according to the report: “I don’t know if he did or not, but it’s still was not any type of consensual sex, I didn’t even know the guy back then, it was only the second time, I went there briefly.”
The detective’s report is written with considerable skepticism about the woman’s claims (the detective was a male), noting that when she left Abate’s house that night of the alleged rape, she crashed into a deer and had to have the car towed. Law enforcement at the scene did not detect indications of impairment in her, nor was there any mention of a sexual assault, the detective reported.
The report also states that M.D. herself had told the detective that she would speak to her therapist as to whether she would want to pursue charges. So the case was categorized as “:inactive” until such a call. The detective called M.D. on June 29, 2021, asking whether she intended to proceed. She told the detective that “she was working with an attorney now on a civil case, and she needed to discuss it with him.”
That was the end of the report, suggesting that, while the Sheriff’s Office was willing to investigate the matter further, the alleged victim had not pursued that avenue, going the civil route instead.