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A jury in Santa Clara, Calif., found that two disgruntled workers maliciously libeled their former employer and two managers in cyberspace, awarding $425,000 in actual damages and setting the stage for punitive damages to follow. “I am thrilled that the jury saw through the fog of claims that this is supposedly protected opinion versus false and malicious facts,” said Lynne Hermle, a partner in the Silicon Valley office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, who represented Varian Medical Systems and two of its executives. The eight-woman, four-man jury found that defendants and research scientists Michelangelo Delfino and Mary Day had libeled the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company and executives by posting more than 14,000 defamatory and often vulgar messages on more than 100 Internet message boards and their own Web site. Delfino, who was fired from Varian in 1998, was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages while Day must pay $175,000. The jury also found that the two defendants misappropriated the name of Varian Vice President George Zdasiuk and manager Susan Felch, who were often targets of messages accusing them of having extramarital affairs, being a danger to children, videotaping office bathrooms, being chronic liars and hallucinating. The jury found that both Day and Delfino acted with malice, fraud and oppression, meaning the jury will be asked to consider punitive damages after a short hearing Monday. The jury also made a special finding of conspiracy. Day and Delfino vowed to appeal, saying neither the verdict nor an injunction issued by Judge Jack Komar would shut them up. Both said they were simply speaking the truth about Varian and its employees. “Of course, we don’t have the money. We are already up to our ears in debt. We’ve already been using our retirement fund to live and pay legal bills,” Delfino said. Day said they would continue to post until “they stop harassing and intimidating me.” The two said they are already looking ahead to the appeal, specifically challenging Komar’s injunction. While dozens of Silicon Valley corporations have gone after rogue John Does trashing their companies on the Internet, this was one of the first Internet libel cases to reach trial. But Day and Delfino are no ordinary critics. After first being sued in 1998, the two ratcheted up their online tirades, posting thousands of messages about Varian, its workers and their attorneys. During the eight-week trial they wrote scathing summaries about it daily. On Tuesday, after the jury began deliberating, Komar made a finding of fact that Day and Delfino had defamed the plaintiffs and enjoined them from posting specific statements. Palo Alto attorney Glynn Falcon Jr., who represented Delfino, said the verdict is hardly the final chapter. Day and Delfino have already appealed an earlier judge’s dismissal of their anti-SLAPP motion, which contends Varian’s suit is a so-called strategic lawsuit against public participation. “This is just the first stage,” Falcon said. “It’s not an unexpected result. I am happy the damages weren’t more.”

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