Return of the Au Pair

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BOSTON: It happened to O.J. Now get ready for Louise Woodward: The Civil Trial. District Court Judge William Young ruled Thursday that the British au pair, who returned home earlier this year after an appeals court upheld her reduced sentence in the death of baby Matthew Eappen, was liable for "punitive damages." A court date was set for next January. Those damages would be in consideration of Deborah and Sunil Eappen's loss, a lifetime's worth of "companionship" from Matthew - for which compensation could, in theory, run into millions of dollars.

Not that the 20-year-old Louise actually has that kind of money. As it turned out, she never sold her story to the tabloids; no U.K. book or movie deal was proposed either before or after Judge Young's earlier edict banning that kind of profiteering (an order which was, in any case, legally unenforceable across the pond). And there are plenty of other distinctions between O.J.'s civil trial and Woodward's, not least of which is that the au pair was actually convicted the first time around - albeit of manslaughter rather than murder. A jury may decide she's been through enough. She is also not required to appear in person. There is one similarity with the former football star's second ordeal; the media will be kept in check this time. "I see no basis for an attorney appearing on television for any reason in this case," Judge Young said as he banned cameras from his courtroom. "This case is not going to be tried in the press." But as anyone who read the Boston Herald and Globe during the first Woodward trial knows, that may be a vain hope.