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Widower and His Attorney Pay $700K in Sanctions Because of Facebook Spoliation
Some say that this may be the most depressing legal news story they have ever read.
The three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar sanction award had been levied against the poor widower of a woman that was killed in a car accident and the widower’s lawyer. This ruling came as a definite table-turn for Isaiah Lester, who had previously won $10 million in a wrongful death suit against the driver whose truck overturned and killed his wife.
Here are more depressing details of the story:
In 2008, a truck drive named William Donald Sprouse, pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter for the accidental death of 25-year-old Jessica Lester. ”Sprouse’s ”truck rounded a corner on two wheels, flipped and rolled over onto Lester’s car, a crushing sixty thousand pounds landing where Jessica sat,” according to a very bluntly-written news article from the time that the trial was going on.
Jessica’s parents and her widower, Isaiah Lester, won a huge amount in the wrongful death suit in 2010 against Sprouse and his employer at the time of the accident, which was Allied Concrete Company. Clearly because the family’s wounds were still fresh, a Virginia jury awarded them a massive $10.6 million.
But, alas, the courtroom journey was not over.
Nearly a year later, on October 21, Judge Edward Hogshire signed a ”final order” cutting the jury verdict in half in Lester v. Allied Concrete Company and William Donald Sprouse, and also penalizing Lester and his attorney, Matt Murray, a combined total of $722,000 in sanctions:
”Whereas, the court, having reviewed the evidence and arguments of counsel and carefully considered the extensive pattern of deceptive and obstructionist conduct of Murray and Lester resulting in the sanction award, finds that most of the substantial fees and costs expended by Defendants were necessary and appropriate to address and defend against such conduct.”
The Hook reports:
”According to a September 1 order from Judge Hogshire, the spoliation began in March 25, 2009, when Murray received a discovery request for the contents of Lester’s Facebook account. Attached was a photo of Lester wearing a ‘I [heart] hot moms” t-shirt, and holding a beer can with other young adults.
Murray instructed a paralegal to tell Lester to ”clean up” his Facebook page because, ”we don’t want blowups of this stuff at trial,” the assistant, Marlina Smith, said in a disposition. She emailed that message to Lester the next day.
On March 26, 2009, according to the judge’s order, Murray came up with a scheme to take down or deactivate Lester’s Facebook account so that he could respond that he has no Facebook page on the date the discovery request was signed.
When defense attorneys filed a motion to compel, Murray instructed Lester to reactivate the account. But in a December 16 2009, deposition, Lester denied deactivating the account.
Murray is also accused of withholding the email from Smith instructing Lester to clean up his Facebook page when he was ordered to produce it shortly before the trial began. Murray falsely claimed after the trial that the omission was the paralegal’s mistake, according to the court order.”