Baby Daddy Drama

Justin Bieber Paternity Case Analyzed by Attorney Debra Opri

Legal expert Debra Opri, who handled the Anna Nicole Smith case, weighs in on Justin Bieber’s paternity drama.

Yuri Cortez, AFP/ Getty Images

They say that any publicity is good publicity, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to the current legal drama enveloping pop star Justin Bieber. The 17-year-old Canadian, who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world, has been accused by a 20-year-old woman, Mariah Yeater, of fathering her 3-month-old baby.

The lawsuit, filed by Yeater this week in Los Angeles, alleges that a security guard approached Yeater after Bieber’s sold-out performance at L.A.’s Staples Center and asked if she’d like to meet Bieber backstage. At the time, she was 19, and the pop star was just 16. According to Yeater, “Immediately, it was obvious that we were mutually attracted to one another, and we began to kiss … I agreed to go with him, and on the walk to a private area he told me he wanted to make love to me and this was going to be his first time.” Yeater added, “Justin Bieber found a place where we could be alone—a bathroom. We went inside and immediately his personality changed drastically. He began touching me and repeatedly said he wanted to f--k the s--t out of me. At the time I asked him to put on a condom for protection, but he insisted that he did not want to. In his own words, he said that because it was his first time he wanted to feel everything."

Yeater then alleges that the pair had sexual intercourse, lasting approximately 30 seconds, on top of a shelf. She is demanding that Bieber, who was in the midst of promoting his Christmas album Under the Mistletoe, released Nov. 1, take a paternity test to determine whether or not he is indeed the father of her child. If he is, Yeater is demanding ample child support. Bieber, meanwhile, has vehemently denied the allegations, telling the Today show’s Matt Lauer, “Never met the woman … I’d just like to say, basically, that none of those allegations are true.”

In order to break down the case against Justin Bieber, The Daily Beast spoke to attorney and legal analyst Debra Opri, who has famously represented pop legend Michael Jackson’s parents, Joseph and Katherine Jackson, after their son was charged with child molestation, and gained widespread acclaim as the lawyer who successfully secured paternity rights for Larry Birkhead in gaining custody of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn.

What do you think of Mariah Yeater’s lawsuit against Justin Bieber?It’s bogus, in my opinion.

So can anyone just file a paternity lawsuit against a celebrity?Anybody can file a lawsuit. If it’s frivolous, that will come in time. And there have been many instances when people have filed paternity actions when they’re not the dad.

One of the complicated issues here is that Justin Bieber was a minor—16 years old—when the alleged tryst took place, so if Yeater’s claims are indeed correct, she could be found guilty of statutory rape. Would Bieber still be liable to pay child support, even though he was technically the victim of statutory rape?One has nothing to do with the other, so under the laws of child support in the state of California, a biological father would be required to pay child support unless the parental rights were terminated. Say it did happen, and his handlers say, “You’re the father,” so you go two ways: yes, you pay the support and you pay a lump sum and get her to renounce parental rights and it’s a buyout, or you accept duty as a father and pay the court order. But you can’t make a lump settlement on child support because it’s not the mother’s right to make a deal. In the end, it’s “child support.” You can’t ever say the court loses jurisdiction and I’ll give you a lump sum so go away. What he can say is: I have nothing to do with this child, it’s a form of extortion, I will agree to terminate my parental right and give you a lump sum now. If she and the court accept that, then it’s done and Bieber won’t have to be responsible for the child until he’s 18 years of age, which he would have to be if there was no termination of parental rights.

So if it’s statutory rape, what happens to Yeater? I’ll tell you what Justin Bieber would say: I think this is much-ado-about-nothing. What was it, 30 seconds? If he says it didn’t happen but she can prove it, it will be a statutory rape—so she’ll get a suspended sentence, therapy, community service, or it’s not that way and she made it up, and then it’ll be a restraining order against her. But at this point in time, it’s Justin Bieber saying it didn’t happen, and I’m sure there are things going on behind the scenes to get her out of the media and a deal that way, so the question is how far she’s willing to go and what’s her price tag. It’s a chess game at this point in time.

What would you do if you were Bieber, or representing Bieber? Here’s my view because I deal with celebrities all the time: when you look at this event, it’s only being looked at through: how is this going to hurt my career? So if they need, behind closed doors, to say to her, “Look, we’re going to pay you off, it’s done, we’ll settle out with you but go away,” and that’s the value to his career, it’s one thing. If she has a ticker in her head that says she likes the attention, she’s not going to go along. It’s a poker game and a matter of what she needs and what she wants. He’s got a Christmas album coming out. If it were me I’d say get this cleaned up immediately.

But isn’t settling with your accuser these days sort of a tacit admission of guilt in the eyes of the public?I can tell you personally that just because somebody sues you doesn’t mean you’re guilty or liable. I wouldn’t attach that, and I think the faster he gets this out of the way and under the rug, the better off for everybody. But this has to be a strong lesson for everybody and the celebrities out there: how did she get access to him? That should be the big question right now to his handlers.

Do you think this case will go to trial?Will this go to trial? No. Could it potentially? Yes, if the paternity action shows he’s the biological father, the settlement action isn’t good enough, there’s a statutory rape filing, and she makes her appearance, and it drags out for a while. The more prudent manner would be to get a private paternity test done, find out where we stand, and then go from there.

If it’s discovered that Bieber is not the father of the baby, should he then file a countersuit against her for smearing his reputation?No. Why should he? What does he have to gain, money? Just get a restraining order against her.

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Now let’s say they discover that Bieber is the father. How much would he have to pay in child support?If he is the father, because he is a high-income earner, I believe he’d pay the needs of the child, so if the lifestyle is lower-to-middle class, the child support would be $5,000-10,000/a month, or $15,000 a month max.

And how much would it cost someone in Bieber’s position for a settlement, thereby terminating his parental rights and making this all go away?In the end, it’s always: what is it worth to the parties to put it behind them and walk away? That’s an open question.