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Despite a jury verdict against Dennis C. Hayes, the five-year legal struggle between the former Hayes Microcomputer CEO and two of his company’s former executives is far from over. Following a three-week defamation trial in May in Fulton County Superior Court the jury awarded more than $1 million in damages to Hayes’ ex-associates. Shortly afterward, Hayes’s lawyer, Robert L. Shannon Jr. of Atlanta’s Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover, filed motions asking Judge Constance C. Russell for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial. Shannon declined to comment on the issues he’ll argue, saying the motions speak for themselves. “I just want to give the court a last opportunity to take a look at this,” he says. Shannon says his client has indicated he will consider an appeal if the court denies his motions. Former Hayes vice presidents Gary J. Franza and John S. Stuckey had claimed that Hayes fired them because they challenged his ability to run his company. They said Hayes defamed them in two e-mails and a newspaper article by saying their terminations were “for cause.” In court, Hayes claimed he fired Franza and Stuckey because they tried to stage a mutiny in the middle of the company’s bankruptcy. The jury awarded Franza $255,000 and $25,000 in punitive damages. Stuckey was awarded damages of $510,000 and $50,000 in punitive damages. Both plaintiffs received an additional $112,000 each in attorneys’ fees. The executives had asked for $5 million each in their complaint. Hayes Microcomputer Products v. Franza, No. E47303 (Fult. Super. May 14, 2001). In his brief in support of his motion, Shannon said that the e-mails informing other employees why Stuckey and Franza had been fired were true: The executives had been fired for cause. That should be an absolute defense in a libel case, Shannon argued. “If the statements made by the Counterdefendants were true, it is neither libelous nor can it be the subject of malice,” he wrote. The executives never contradicted testimony that they criticized Hayes and called an all-employee meeting seeking the CEO’s resignation, Shannon argued in his brief. Franza and Stuckey, he maintains, “did certain acts or made certain statements, for which the Counterdefendants eventually fired them.” In his reply memorandum, Franza’s and Stuckey’s lawyer, John J. Almond of Rogers & Hardin in Atlanta, reminded the court that his clients never accepted their terminations as being “for cause,” and claimed they never breached their fiduciary duties to the company. “To the contrary; they have steadfastly maintained that all of their actions were done with the intent and purpose of furthering the best interests of the company,” Almond wrote. This case is not about a complaint for wrongful termination, Almond argued in his memorandum. His clients have never questioned Hayes’ right to fire them. Rather, Almond argues, the executives claimed defamation, “wherein they contend that the Counterdefendants libeled and slandered them … by publicly stating the false calumny that they had given ’cause’ for their terminations and had engaged in breaches of their fiduciary duties to the corporation.” The court has not set a date yet for argument on Hayes’ motions.

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