Outcome of lawsuit in favor of White on all charges
REED CITY — No monetary damages will be awarded to Virginia Staats from James White as a result of the lawsuit she filed against him — not even the $1 he previously offered to pay her in settlement.
When the three-day civil trial began on July 15, White was accused of defamation, intentional misrepresentation, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress to Staats, the plaintiff in the suit.
In 2011, Staats was found not guilty of one felony count of embezzlement of $50,000 but less than $100,000 after her employer, White, accused her of the crime. At the time, Staats was a sitting member of the Evart City Council and White was Evart’s city attorney.
The six-person jury decided in favor of White on July 17 regarding the allegation of intentional infliction of emotional distress alleged by Staats. Earlier in the day’s proceedings, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy granted three motions for directed verdicts on the claims of defamation, intentional misrepresentation and malicious prosecution, also finding there was no cause to those allegations.
White’s lawyer, James Talaske, asked for the motions on all the charges once the plaintiff’s case rested, stating there was not enough evidence for the jury to even deliberate the four claims.
“There was only one possible incident that was testified to as possible defamation, and that witness was not even able to identify when that statement happened,” Talaske said.
Talaske was referring to James Waldfogel, a witness for the plaintiff who testified on the second day about information related to the defamation count against White. Waldfogel testified that while in Schmidtys Bar, a former dining establishment in Evart, he heard White discussing Staats.
He testified White complained about the outcome and handling of some aspect of the criminal proceedings against Staats and said she “would never work again.”
Waldfogel was unsure of the time frame for the comments from White, first stating the comments were made in 2012, but Talaske brought out a previous deposition transcript where he said the comments occurred in 2011. Waldfogel corrected himself to say it was 2011 as was stated in the deposition.
Upon Hill-Kennedy granting the directed verdicts for three of the four counts, Talaske re-offered to settle with the plaintiff for $1. If she accepted the offer, it would spare Staats from having to pay for attorney fees in the event the ruling was favorable for White.
Staats declined the offer and her attorney, Jonathan Browning, continued to attempt proving White had intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon his client by accusing her of embezzlement, which ultimately led to a criminal trial. Staats was found not guilty of embezzlement.
Staats testified that she was embarrassed to go out in public and rarely did so after she was fired from White’s office. She also said she was emotionally distraught and may have needed to seek counseling, but did not do so because she no longer had health insurance after being fired.
Talaske called multiple witnesses, including Det. Sgt. George Pratt, a retired officer from the former Reed City Michigan State Police post who investigated the criminal case against Staats.
Talaske questioned Pratt about Staats’ emotional state during a meeting between Staats, Pratt and her previous attorney, prior to the criminal trial.
“She was not inconsolable, was she?” Talaske asked. “Did she show any signs of being emotionally devastated or despondent?”
“Not that I can recall from memory,” Pratt answered.
Throughout the three-day trial, Staats maintained that White authorized her to write numerous checks to herself for bonuses, health insurance and other expenses, then later accused her of embezzling in order to collect money from insurance for an employee dishonesty claim.
As a witness for the defense, Justin Norcross, an employee of L Squared Insurance Agency, testified White holds policies through the agency, one for malpractice and also White’s business owner policy.
Norcross testified that White called to inquire about a claim, stating an employee had stolen funds from him, and he wondered if he had coverage for that. Norcross directed him to the proper telephone number for the answer.
The employee dishonesty claim was covered under the general business owner policy, which covers personal property for the office, such as computers, desks, chairs, etc., and also any accidents in the office, Norcross said.
White was eventually awarded $25,000 from the claim, and Staats at one time was billed for the expense by White’s insurance company. Staats later testified it was later determined she did not have to reimburse the $25,000.
Talaske argued, and White testified to the fact, that he did not even know about the policy, so that was not a motivation for firing her or pursuing legal action. He also refuted Staat's statements that she was following orders from him when writing checks to herself.
“I never gave her advice on her personal tax returns and told her to hide those checks,” he said. “I also did not authorize an extra $100 per week for her or an extra $200 per week.”
The jury took less than one hour to reach a verdict on the charge of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
White and Staats both had no comment after the decision was announced. Because of the decision in White’s favor, Talaske said Staats will be billed for White’s legal fees and a hearing will be held as necessary to work out the details.