It’s the lawsuit that rocked the dance world: Last year, seven young dancers, including a ballerina with Boston Ballet, accused the company’s former star, Dusty Button, and her husband, Mitchell Taylor Button, of sexual assault, trafficking, even child rape.
The case grew yet thornier last month, when the Buttons’ controversial attorney Marc Randazza filed a bombshell counterclaim, denying all charges of sexual assault and pointing the finger at five new “third-party” defendants. It was these adults, the Buttons alleged, who caused the real damage to their most prominent accuser: Boston Ballet’s Sage Humphries. The countersuit leveled accusations of child prostitution, sex trafficking, and statutory rape, naming Humphries’s parents among the third-party defendants.
But now, six weeks later, the Buttons have removed some of their most damning accusations. They dropped claims of underage sex earlier this month by filing a motion to strike. And last week, an amended counterclaim withdrew allegations against three of the third-party defendants, adult men the Buttons had claimed had sex with Humphries when she was a minor, including one man they alleged paid her for “sexual favors while she remained underage.”
“It is highly unusual for a party to move to strike portions of its own pleadings,” the Buttons’ legal team wrote earlier this month in its motion to strike claims of underage sex. But the “Buttons have been presented with reliable evidence disputing their previous understanding of Sage’s true age.”
The amended claim still mentions the three men by name, however, and alleges that one of them, billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers Daryl Allan Katz, paid Humphries “at least” $75,000 for sexual favors at “age 18.”
“To the extent that Sage Humphries claims she was abused and sex trafficked, the Buttons agree — however, this abuse and trafficking was not at their hands, but at the hands of a series of older men,” the Buttons argue in their revised claim, filed with US District Court in Nevada. “If Sage is truly the damaged flower she claims to be, the price should be paid — but it should be paid by those who actually engaged in illegal and harmful acts with her.”
An attorney for Katz declined to comment, but he has previously denied the allegations on behalf of his client.
Attorney Sigrid McCawley, who represents Humphries and the other six dancers, denied the Buttons’ claims of prostitution on behalf of her client.
“I’ve never seen somebody put forth a false filing and then have to take it back in that way,” said McCawley, a managing partner at Boies Schiller Flexner.
Randazza, a free speech attorney who built a practice representing clients in the adult entertainment industry, declined an interview request, referring the Globe to court documents.
The Buttons’ allegations come in response to a lawsuit brought last year by the seven dancers, who allege the pair “exploited their position of power and influence in the dance world to sexually abuse young dancers across the country.”
The Buttons flatly deny the accusations of sexual misconduct, calling sexual abuse claims by six of the accusers “fabrications.” As for Humphries, the Buttons claim it was she who initiated a “consensual” sexual relationship with them — all at the prompting of her mother.
“Sage’s advances were made with the advice, consent, and prodding of at least her mother,” the Buttons’ legal team argues in its most recent filing. “The Buttons eventually acquiesced to Sage’s advances and began a consensual ‘throuple’ sexual relationship with Sage Humphries after Sage moved in with them.”
Michael and Micah Humphries —the only third-party defendants that remain in the Buttons’ counterclaim — initially welcomed the relationship, the Buttons allege, to help “relieve” them of paying their daughter’s rent and further her dance career. They also accuse her parents of pressuring Humphries into “risky encounters with other men which they knew would put Sage in a position of being sexually abused or sex trafficked.”
“Humphries was literally a prostitute to a billionaire, and her mother encouraged and assisted in trafficking her to Katz,” writes the Buttons’ legal team, adding that Humphries’s mother “assisted Sage in laundering her prostitution fees.”
McCawley, who has filed a motion to dismiss the Buttons’ counterclaims, characterized their allegations broadly as “reprehensible and sanctionable,” calling them “absurd and made-up” and a “clear attempt to intimidate and silence their victims.”
“This is a tactic that abusers use,” said McCawley, who represented several accusers of serial predator Jeffrey Epstein. “It’s very typical for an abuser to go on the attack.”
It’s not the first time fellow attorneys have criticized Randazza’s legal maneuvers.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of Nevada disciplined Randazza after he admitted to violating the state’s conflict of interest rules when he tried to negotiate an attorney-client relationship with a company his own client was suing. Randazza, who lists offices in Gloucester and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, received a 12-month stayed suspension in the matter.
He has been reprimanded for the same ethical breach in Arizona, Florida, and Massachusetts. In 2019, a Connecticut judge reportedly blocked him from representing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in a suit brought by families of children killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre, citing the attorney’s “serious misconduct.”
Humphries and another dancer, Gina Menichino, originally brought the sexual abuse lawsuit last year. It eventually grew to include the five other accusers, several of whom allege Mitchell Taylor Button sexually assaulted them when they were minors and he was a dance teacher at Centerstage Dance Academy in Tampa, Fla.
One plaintiff from New Hampshire, referred to as Jane Doe 100, alleges the Buttons raped her when she was a minor and dancing with Urbanity Dance in Boston. Another alleges Dusty Button sexually molested her in Panama.
In denying the claims, the Buttons allege most of the plaintiffs saw the lawsuit as “an opening which would allow them to extort money from the Buttons and to advance their careers by attaching their name to the #MeToo circuit.”
“The difference is, these additions to the circuit are lying,” the Buttons’ legal team argues. “Their stories are fabrications.”
The bulk of the Buttons’ counterclaim, however, is aimed at Humphries, who alleges the Buttons repeatedly sexually assaulted her in 2017, when Dusty Button was a principal ballerina with Boston Ballet and Humphries had recently joined the company.
“I was basically like their little bird in a cage,” Humphries told the Globe last year. “I was, like, officially their property.”
The Buttons included exhibits of photos and intimate communications — widely reported in the media — to dispute that characterization, saying their involvement with the dancer “appeared, at the time, to be one of mutual love, affection, and respect.”
Humphries’s parents, they add, “initially welcomed that relationship, as they saw it as advantageous to Sage’[sic] dance career and her ability to benefit in a pecuniary way.“
But then things shifted, and the claim alleges Humphries’s mother filed a “false police report against the Buttons,” and that her parents “physically removed Sage Humphries from the Buttons’ home against Sage’s will” and “forced Sage into therapy.”
“In hindsight, it was clear that Micah Humphries was ‘casing’ the Buttons as a mark for her next grift,” the Buttons’ legal team argues. It “became clear that Sage was actually working with her parents to either profit from or destroy the reputations of the Buttons.”
McCawley said the Humphrieses sought only to help their daughter escape the Buttons’ “cycle of abuse.”
“The worst thing for somebody who’s been a victim of abuse is to have their family members and people that are affiliated with them brought into something like this,” she said. “That’s the reason survivors oftentimes don’t come forward.”