The jury more or less slapped Lois Monday's wrist Thursday afternoon.
At 4:50 p.m. Thursday, the jury's verdict found Monday did defame the county's former third-party administrator Frank DeMarco and awarded him $1,000 in general damages. Further, the jury awarded DeMarco no money in punitive damages, and Monday is not obligated to pay DeMarco's legal fees.
"I was fine with the verdict," Monday said this morning. "The jury had a tough decision to make. But, someone told me a long time ago there will always be people out there looking to take away your hard earned money and you better be prepared. People are sue happy. DeMarco wanted big bucks, but I didn't work all my life for someone to come in and fleece me."
DeMarco was claiming Monday made defamatory comments that injured his reputation and caused him more than $800,000 in lost business at Greater Regional Medical Center and Ringgold and Audubon counties.
In closing statements, DeMarco's attorney Mark Sherinian suggested the jury award DeMarco $50,000 in damages.
“While Mr. DeMarco is disappointed in the amount of the verdict, the jury’s conclusion is a clear window into the character of Lois Monday,” Sherinian said in a press release this morning. “It also serves as a warning to the Union County community that when Lois Monday speaks, her personal attacks should be taken with a lot of salt.”
DeMarco, senior vice president of American Administrators, was Union County's health-insurance administrator for more than 12 years. But, he was dismissed in May 2011 when the board of supervisors voted to switch to Bernie Lowe & Associates of Ankeny.
In this case, DeMarco blamed Union County Supervisor Lois Monday for lost business. DeMarco filed the civil lawsuit in 2010 against Monday, alleging over the past three years, Monday made third-person false and defamatory comments that injured the reputation and maintenance of American Administrators.
According to court documents, DeMarco states those defamatory comments included:
• In August 2009, Monday stated to one or more individuals in the Creston city manager's office that DeMarco was a crook and a criminal, and that he lies and steals
• In August 2009, Monday published an article in the Creston News Advertiser which stated DeMarco's conduct with respect to the county's health-insurance plan was "disgraceful" and "was not truthful in many remarks." In the same article, Monday implied DeMarco acted this way because he "likes the guaranteed commission check."
• In February 2010, Monday published an article in the Creston News Advertiser which stated DeMarco engaged in "double talk" and "innuendos" and had improperly "hid behind HIPAA." In the same article, Monday referred to DeMarco and his employees as "bulldogs" and recommended the city of Creston remove American Administrators as its third-party administrator.
In the judgment, DeMarco asked for compensatory damages in the amount to be proven at trial, punitive damages, cost of this action, and all other relief deemed appropriate.
DeMarco's attorney Mark Sherinian told the jury in closing statements Thursday afternoon — this case is simple. Sherinian said it boils down to "the respect one person should have for another," and that Lois Monday did not abide by the Golden Rule.
Sherinian added the case is also about consequences, and the words Monday created powerful and dangerous images about DeMarco that damaged his reputation.
Sherinian then made a suggestion to the jury. He suggested they award in favor of DeMarco and reward him $50,000 in damages.
"You have a chance to send a message to this community," Sherinian said, "that this sort of conduct must stop."
Monday's attorney A. Zane Blessum told the jury this case was about one of two things, either his client was a crackpot or a crusader. Blessum told the jury his client was a crusader — a crusader who stood up for her community, won an election and stopped all the "spending, spending, spending" including helping the county switch from DeMarco's company to Bernie Lowe & Associates, which saved the county upward of $200,000.
Union County Election Deputy Tandy Steele took the stand 9:05 a.m. Thursday, testifying the health-insurance records when she was hired September 2009 "were a mess." Steele also said there was miscommunication between her and DeMarco's office when she was first hired.
Steele said she didn't feel like the county had proper documentation regarding the health-insurance plan administered by DeMarco. She said most of the policies were on "Post-it notes" and in "PowerPoint presentations." Steele said she didn't feel either of those two forms counted as proper documentation. She felt only official contracts should be accepted in the records.
Steele said while Mike King, former county supervisor, was on the board she was not allowed to speak to DeMarco's office. So, she made a list of contracts she felt like she needed for her records, then went about writing up those contracts and presenting them to the board and sending them to DeMarco to sign.
Steele said the most essential contracts were written documentation regarding the county's wellness program, opt-out policy and Medicare donut hole.
Steele said communication between her and DeMarco's office improved in early 2011 after King was defeated by Monday.
DeMarco was called as a rebuttal witness Thursday morning. He stated, four out of five years the self-funded plan he administered in Union County saved taxpayer money. He stated he felt the reason the county changed to Bernie Lowe & Associates wasn't because of the products, it was because of him.
Court went into recess at about 11:40 a.m. today.
The jury will return at 1:30 p.m. whereby closing statements will begin.
When a verdict is reached, the Creston News Advertiser will post the details at www.crestonnews.com and follow up with more details in the daily edition Friday.