Attorney Michael T. Dolce represented Gainesville resident Rebekka Trahan in her lawsuit against her parents Scott and Tina Mulholland. Trahan accused her family of sexual, physical and emotional abuse that she said occurred from the time she was 8 until she left home at 24.
Dolce represented Rebekka Trahan, who filed suit in Alachua Circuit Court in 2015 against her parents, Tina Mulholland and Scott S. “Spiderman” Mulholland, a well-known contractor who gained a reputation for his unconventional approach to inspecting buildings by scaling their exterior walls.
An Alachua County jury awarded Trahan more than $4.6 million for what she said was more than a decade-and-a-half’s worth of mistreatment.
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Dolce represented Trahan with West Palm Beach attorney Takisha Richardson, both from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll ’s sexual abuse, sex trafficking and domestic violence team.
According to Dolce, Trahan’s case stands out due to the “extraordinary” amount of time the abuse continued. What isn’t atypical, the attorney said, were the reactions of family and community members to his client’s accusations.
“Mr. Mulholland professed to be a born-again Christian. Their family life and spiritual life revolved around this,” said Dolce, who added that the Mulholland family was heavily involved in Gainesville’s Pentecostal community.
When those who knew Trahan and her family were called to testify, it was most often not in service of the plaintiff.
“The Mulhollands were very prominent in the Pentecostal community. Church members would come over and have meetings at their house. Their house was an extension of the church community,” Dolce said. “Everyone who testified on behalf of the defendants was from this community.”
Dolce, who was himself a victim of child abuse, says that it was brave of Trahan to use her own name when filing a case against her family, rather than a pseudonym, such as “Jane Doe.” He said incestuous sexual abuse between adults is particularly painful to disclose.
“When she broke her silence at 24 years old, it obviously took a lot of courage to do that. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it is for someone to acknowledge that publicly,” Dolce said. “[By] filing with her name, she wanted to make sure everyone knew who her family really was.”
The jury awarded damages for medical expenses consistent with the evidence presented, and $3 million for future pain and suffering. Dolce had not specified a monetary amount for an award.
“In these cases involving sex abuse … we have confidence that juries are going to come with a number that reflects the gravity of that harm, so I simply do not ask in closing for a specific number,” he said. ”In an incest case you suffer from the effects of sexual trauma … and you lose your family in the process of disclosing. It’s typical when families splinter off and side with the perpetrator.”
Ultimately, Dolce says that he is satisfied with the outcome of Trahan’s trial, noting that it is “an affirmation that her truth could be honored somewhere.”
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