'Bachelor' star Clayton Echard wins paternity suit; judge refers accuser for prosecution

A superior court judge in Arizona sided with Clayton Echard in a scorching ruling issued Monday.
A superior court judge in Arizona sided with Clayton Echard in a scorching ruling issued Monday.

Nine months after an Arizona woman claimed former "Bachelor" lead Clayton Echard impregnated her with twins, Echard came out victorious in his defense against her paternity suit.

In a scorching ruling Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Julie Mata referred Echard's accuser, Laura Owens, for criminal prosecution.

Mata found Owens had altered documents, changed the results of a pregnancy test, gave false testimony and potentially perjured herself in what the judge said appeared to be "a case of serial fabrications."

Mata found Owens admitted to altering and fabricating ultrasounds and sonograms. Owens provided a sonogram to Echard, supposedly showing her pregnancy, which Mata said had actually been posted to YouTube seven years ago.

Ultimately, Mata found that no pregnancy could be confirmed, saying the test results provided fell "woefully short" of meeting the burden of clear and convincing evidence needed to prove Echard was the father of the alleged pregnancy. She granted Echard's petition for non-paternity.

"Failure to demonstrate confirmation of ongoing pregnancy is a purposeful way to ensure (Echard) would not be able to determine if she was pregnant and if so, for how long the pregnancy lasted," Mata said.

Mata wrote that Owens had acted unreasonably, saying she had initiated litigation "without basis or merit."

"Without an authentic ultrasound, sonogram, physical examination, and in conjunction with a belief she passed tissue in July 2023, the Court finds the underlying Petition premature at best," Mata wrote. "At worst, however, fraudulent and made to incite communication, a relationship, or both, with (Echard)."

Owens has a pattern of falsely claiming to be pregnant, according to Echard's attorneys.

What happened in Clayton Echard's paternity case?

In August 2023, Laura Owens of Scottsdale, Arizona, filed a petition for a court order of paternity seeking child support from Echard in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Owens initially claimed that she became pregnant with twins after having sex with Echard.

Echard claimed Owens' paternity lawsuit was filed as a form of harassment and denied paternity. In court filings, he said they had oral sex, but "that was all."

Echard accused Owens of lying and fabricating medical documents. His attorneys also submitted examples of Owens threatening to take the story to the press.

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Owens subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the petition to establish paternity, saying she was "no longer pregnant."

Judge Julie Mata granted Owens' motion to drop the petition for paternity but said the issues of sanctions and attorney's fees still needed to be resolved.

Both parties addressed those issues at a trial on June 10, which was attended by close to 100 people from around the country who have been following the case due to the celebrity connection.

Judge: 'Laura Owens has a pattern of similar, if not identical behavior'

Owens, in 2021, filed a lawsuit alleging abortion coercion and intentional infliction of emotional distress against a Scottsdale man. Owens' claims were not successful.

In her order, Mata also took issue with Owens' attorney.

"During Petitioner's cross-examination, it became profoundly obvious that counsel for the Petitioner was attempting to coach her answers," Mata wrote.

Echard's attorney, Gregg Woodnick, said while the case had been exhausting, he was happy with Mata's "thoughtful" ruling. "We hope this is the end of the saga, for all of the victims," Woodnick said.

In her decision to award attorneys fees to Echard, Mata said Owens' petition was not filed in good faith, nor was it grounded in fact or based on law.

"The petition was filed for an improper purpose, such as to harass the other party, to cause an unnecessary delay or to increase the cost of litigation to the other party," Mata said.

Mata found Owens provided false testimony about her pregnancies in three cases and presented false claims.

In addition, Mata referred Owens for felony prosecution for violating Arizona's laws regarding perjury and evidence tampering.

"It is further ordered, the Court having determined that Laura Owens has a pattern of similar, if not identical behavior, and court involvement, referring this matter to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for review of Laura Owen's actions," Mata wrote.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

Clayton Echard wants to 'stop this from ever happening again'

Reached by phone after the ruling, Echard told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY network, that the ruling gave him a sense of relief.

"It's been over a year since this all began, and it's been hard to go about life some days when this was looming overhead," Echard said.

He said he was cautiously optimistic the Maricopa County attorney would take up the criminal referral.

"I certainly never wanted this to occur, but I'm glad I was able to get justice for not only me but for the previous victims," Echard said. "So just to stop this from ever happening again, I think that's the best thing about it all."

Echard said he never imagined that being a contestant and lead on "The Bachelor" would lead to people targeting him and trying to take advantage of him.

"I didn't anticipate my life being even a fraction of what it's become," he said. "But I do think that it's challenged me, and I'm grateful for the person I've become through it all."

Echard said the fans' outpouring of support heartened him during the case.

"I didn't want it to become a circus, but it certainly was a pleasant surprise to have so many people travel from around the country, coming from New York, coming from Oregon, Washington, Florida," Echard said. "I was very grateful for them to be there because it gave me energy and strength on days when I didn't have it."

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Laura Owens' team will appeal the case

In an email, Owens said she and her attorney were shocked by the ruling and accused Mata of judicial misconduct.

"We are confident this decision will be overturned on appeal," the email said. "In addition, Clayton did not achieve a total victory. Despite his repeated efforts to overturn the order of protection Laura has against him, Judge Mata upheld it."

In her ruling, Mata said that despite Owen's fabrications in the case, legal precedent precluded her from reconsidering the protective order.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Clayton Echard wins paternity suit; Laura Owens may be prosecuted