Unusual case pits wife against husband's former mistress
A civil trial promising tales of sex, lies, videotape and crack cocaine opened Thursday in a Sonoma County courtroom, where a San Rafael woman is suing her husband's former mistress, claiming she supplied him with drugs and ruined their lives.
The case has all the elements of a TV tabloid talk show and centers on a little-known statute, the Drug Dealer Liability Act, which allows family members to seek damages for emotional distress from people who provided their loved ones with drugs.
It features the scorned wife, Cynthia Lee Siciliano, 46, of San Rafael, who alleges Jodie Graham-Potts, 49, of Petaluma, introduced her husband to freebasing during a two-year affair that occurred while Graham-Potts was a driver in the family's limousine service.
Husband Marc Anthony Siciliano, 53, a former minor-league baseball player, has reunited with his wife and is testifying against Graham-Potts. The couple's nine-year-old daughter is named as a co-plaintiff, and is also expected to take the witness stand.
Then there's the videotape. It allegedly shows Graham-Potts plying Siciliano with cocaine and the two engaging in “explicit sex” for more than an hour. The tape is expected to be played in court, although just how much of it Judge Robert Boyd will allow jurors to see remained unknown.
Graham-Potts' lawyer, Lisa Gygax, says her client admitted the affair, but blamed Marc Siciliano, who she called a liar with a long history of drug use. Gygax said the lawsuit is coming from a wife in denial who is bent on vengeance.
“My client is not proud of what happened,” Gygax said in her opening statement Thursday. “But this public flogging ... it's just revenge.”
Cynthia Siciliano declined to discuss details of the lawsuit, but said outside the courtroom she was compelled by the circumstances to do it.
“It's a nightmare,” the wife said, “but it has to be done.”
The Drug Dealer Liability Act, adopted by the state Legislature in 1996, provides civil remedies for the ill effects of illegal controlled substances. A parent, spouse, child or legal guardian may sue anyone who furnishes or administers drugs to a relative. Damages may be recovered for emotional distress, among other things.
There appear to be few instances statewide where the statute was cited in a lawsuit.
Redding lawyer Marc Barulich said he used it last year in a suit against a local pharmacy after a client became hooked on drugs that were stolen from the company. He was seeking damages “in excess of $100,000,” he said.
But the case was tossed out by a Shasta County judge, who said his client bore some responsibility, and is on appeal, he said.
Barulich said one reason the law may not be popular is that plaintiffs or their relatives have to admit to drug use, which does not sit well with juries.
“That's a big swing against your client right off the bat,” Barulich said. “Jurors don't look favorably on someone who says they are a drug user and want money.”
Santa Rosa criminal attorney Steve Turer said he'd never heard of the law until this week. He said it might be uncommon because of the unlikelihood of collecting money from drug users.
“What's the point of spending thousands of dollars to get money from a junkie?” Turer said. “It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Now, in this case, they may have found some assets from which they expect to collect.”
In his opening statement, Siciliano's lawyer, Robert Diskint, told jurors he would prove Graham-Potts was liable under the law and ask for unspecified monetary damages.
He said the Sicilianos had been happily married for about seven years when in late 2004, Marc Siciliano started changing for the worse. He became abusive with his wife and daughter, stayed up for days at a time and slept when he was supposed to be providing child care while his wife worked at her beauty salon, he told jurors.
His limo business started to slide, too, and Cynthia Siciliano grew concerned, Diskint said.
Diskint said the cocaine use and affair came to light on Christmas Day 2007, when Cynthia Siciliano's nephew found a videotape in the couple's pool house and played it back. It showed Graham-Potts lighting a crack pipe and giving it to Marc Siciliano. Then the two had sex, Diskint said.
Cynthia Siciliano confronted her husband, who admitted he had been having an affair since about 2005.
“What happened in this marriage is more than just an affair,” said the plaintiff's attorney. “It is a husband being destroyed by crack cocaine, provided to him by Ms. Graham-Potts.”
Diskint called Marc Siciliano to the stand. He had been waiting outside the courtroom in a black Mercedes SUV while his wife and former mistress sat at different tables during jury selection, prior to opening statements and his testimony.
From the stand he admitted he had been a methamphetamine user in the past, but described smoking crack as a “full-body orgasm” that turned his head and caused him to mistreat his family.
“I became unreasonable,” he said, sleeping instead of caring for his daughter and short-tempered with his wife.
And he blamed Graham-Potts for showing it to him. On the witness stand — his ex-mistress and wife looking on — Marc Siciliano described his first meeting with Graham-Potts in 2003 and his first taste of crack in an upstairs bedroom in her mother's house the next year.
For the next 2-1/2 years, they did drugs together frequently, sometimes every day, the husband testified. She always bought and “cooked” it for him because he didn't know how, he said.
“It's like baking a cake,” Siciliano said. “Some people can get it to rise and some can't.”
Gygax denied her client was responsible for Siciliano's crack use. She said he took drugs before the two fell “passionately in love” and that his wife knew about it but chose to be naïve.
During the affair, Gygax said the two made several sex tapes and the limo business was “one big party.”
Graham-Potts broke off the affair with Siciliano, a former New York Mets minor league catcher, after he lost his temper and threw a water bottle at her, breaking her nose, Gygax said.
He promised to destroy the sex tapes but never did, she said.
The Sicilianos remain together in San Rafael with their child. The case was filed in Sonoma County because Graham-Potts is a Petaluma resident and the suit alleges some of the drug use took place in Sonoma County.
The trial was scheduled to continue Friday.
By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010
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