Mark Salling's Agreement to Pay Child Pornography Victims $50,000 Each is 'Null and Void' Following His Suicide: Expert
The former Glee actor’s victims will not be able to collect the $50,000 in restitution that he agreed to pay in his October plea deal since his death on Tuesday came before his March 7 sentencing date, according to legal experts.
“At the point of sentencing, which hasn’t happened, there would be a restitution order and the judge would have legally enforced this $50,000 per victim agreement, meaning he’s on the hook,” Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Hart J. Levin tells PEOPLE. “He was never sentenced, so that agreement becomes null and void. There’s no recourse through the criminal court to collect that money.”
Ann Gottesman, a criminal defense attorney in Pasadena, agrees, “Since he wasn’t sentenced, the case is actually going to be dismissed.”
Salling, who died at the age of 35, was arrested in Dec. 2015 after LAPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit obtained a search warrant for his home in Sunland, California. Federal investigators said they found more than 25,000 images and 600 videos depicting child pornography on computers and thumb drives that belonged to Salling. The content depicted children as young as 3 years old being abused, according to court documents.
He pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor in October and was expected to serve four to seven years in prison along with having to pay the $50,000 in restitution to victims.
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While it would have been “very easy” for victims to collect the money through criminal court after Salling’s sentencing as the negotiation would have been complete, Levin says it’s a different story now that he’s gone and there’s no probation or way to force him to do anything.
“The only thing that remains now is his estate,” Levin explains. “The estate is not part of the criminal process, it would be part of the civil lawsuit and [the victims are] welcome to file and seek damages from the estate. What they would try and do, most likely, is use his guilty plea as an admission of liability.”
He adds: “It is harder to collect through civil as opposed to criminal because in criminal, it’s agreed upon that he owes the money. In civil, his estate may contest it.”
Even though the victims can use Salling’s guilty plea in civil court, Gottesman says the “burden” will now be on them.
“They’re going to have to either hire their own lawyers or get an attorney to work on contingency,” Gottesman says.
Victims may also run into other issues if they try to sue Salling’s estate as there will likely be “a line of people” waiting to collect from it to pay off things like credit cards and mortgage payments.
“If [the victims] wait, the estate will probably be empty,” Levin says. “They may still be able to get a judgment against the estate, but there won’t be any assets in the estate to fulfill the judgment.”
Unless victims act “very quickly” to sue the estate, Gottesman says getting money from it will be like “trying to get blood from a stone.”
At least two of Salling’s victims may be from the United Kingdom, according to his plea deal documents, which would make it particularly difficult for them to sue.
“Those people are going to have an especially difficult time doing this internationally,” Levin says. “It’s going to be very hard. They can hire attorneys [in California] to go after it but it’s not easy when they’re out of the country.”If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).