Philip Chenevert leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in Portland on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A former Biddeford man facing a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing neighborhood children in the 1990s addressed the allegations for the first time Monday, taking the stand in a long-awaited civil trial.

Philip Chenevert, who ran a couple of auto body shops in Arundel, told jurors on Monday that he could not have abused Julia Russell as a child in 1992 because he had an erectile dysfunction related to several heart and artery conditions.

Russell filed a civil lawsuit against Chenevert in 2021, alleging the former family friend sexually abused her on several occasions from 1992 to 1994, when she was 6 to 8 years old.

Since Russell filed that complaint and shared her story with the Portland Press Herald that summer, other women have reached out to her attorneys with similar allegations. Two of those women are scheduled to testify in the trial later this week. Russell, who co-owns Magnus on Water in downtown Biddeford, also is expected to testify.

No known criminal charges have been filed in the case.

Chenevert’s attorney, Gene Libby, cast doubt on the accuracy of Russell’s memories Monday, saying he plans to spend the next week pointing out “troubling and unsettling contradictions” in Russell’s suit, including the medical conditions that Chenevert continues to struggle with today.


Russell’s attorneys, Meryl Poulin and Taylor Asen, said the lawsuit is an important part of Russell’s healing journey after keeping the abuse a secret from her family for nearly 30 years.

“There are few worse things to have to think about, and talk about, than a child being sexually abused,” Poulin said during opening statements. “But when we have the courage to think about it, and to talk about it, we bring it out into the open and make it real. And that is our best weapon against it.”

Julia Russell, center, leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in Portland on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Should the jury agree with Russell’s claims, the jurors also would decide how much Chenevert would have to pay her in damages.


Chenevert’s defense went beyond the medical claims. He also told jurors he couldn’t remember having ever been alone with any of the women he is accused of abusing. He rejected an allegation that he inappropriately touched one woman, telling jurors it was simply “uncomfortable tickling.”

Chenevert also disputed claims that he held “movie candy parties” exclusively for children around Biddeford Pool, allegedly using the events as an opportunity to abuse one of the women testifying in Russell’s trial.


He denied keeping toys at his home for neighborhood children, a tactic the women allege he used as an excuse to spend time with them as girls.

“The evidence will show that something is not right here. The pieces of the puzzle simply do not fit,” Libby said. “We are asked to rely on 30-year-old memories, and in Phil’s case, the 30-year-old memories of a 73-year-old man.”

Libby argued that Russell’s diagnoses don’t match the typical post-traumatic stress disorder often seen in childhood sexual assault survivors. He highlighted reports from two therapists whom he deposed before the trial who didn’t recall any significant mentions from Russell about sexual abuse, and the fact that Russell kept in touch with Chenevert regularly after she said the abuse ended in 1994.

Quoting French novelist Marcel Proust, Libby told jurors to carefully consider the quality of the recollections they’ll hear during this trial.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” Libby recited on Monday.



Chenevert was a longtime family friend of the Russell family. Chenevert met Russell’s father when the men were teenagers, vacationing at their families’ summer homes in Biddeford Pool in the late 1960s. The two reconnected as young adults when they started living there year-round. Chenevert served as a groomsman in the wedding of Russell’s parents.

When the Russell family moved across the river to Saco, Russell said in her complaint that Chenevert was often over for dinners, parties and to babysit. Russell has alleged she was often alone with Chenevert, and it was in those instances that he abused her.

Chenevert didn’t deny that he was close with the Russells. However, he repeatedly stated he could not recall any occasion when he was alone with Julia Russell or any of the women who say he abused them.

But his memories of Biddeford Pool, Asen argued, remain intact. Asen showed the jury several layouts Chenevert had drawn from memory of the places where Russell accused him of abusing her – his office at Phil’s Auto Center where he allegedly abused her on the couch, and a computer room in the Russell family home.

“Here’s the house you say you’re not so sure you remember well,” Asen said over a drawing of the Russell family home. In the computer room, Chenevert remembered where the bookshelves were, where the bathroom was on the same floor, where the windows were and what they faced. In a drawing of his office at Phil’s Auto Center, Chenevert even included a 9-foot measurement from the window to the couch, and an 11-foot measurement from the window to the door.



Chenevert told the court he never had reason to believe he was ever on bad terms with Julia Russell or her family.

After Russell graduated from high school and left for college, the two kept in touch sporadically. Chenevert remembered a phone call from Russell during which he gave her advice on buying a townhome in the Washington, D.C., area. They exchanged gifts over the years, “because we were friends,” Chenevert said.

Russell bought him a wallet, which he used until recently, and magnetic flames to place on the side of an older car he had. He thought the gift was a joke because the car was so slow.

Russell never reached out to discuss her memories of inappropriate touching, Chenevert told the court, aside from one “nasty message” Chenevert said he received from Russell in 2019 when he had plans to visit her family in Maine.

“She sent me a message to keep away from her family or she’d set my world on fire,” Chenevert said.

“Did you know what that meant?” Libby asked.

“I believe she mentioned in the message that she would tell her family I had molested her,” Chenevert said. “I was shocked.”

Russell told the Press Herald in 2021 that she decided to text Chenevert out of worry for her young niece, who resembled Russell as a child.

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