A Hartford jury awarded a Bloomfield medical assistant $2 million this week for invasion of privacy after her ex-boyfriend, a surgeon, secretly installed multiple bedroom and bathroom cameras, computer trackers and other bugs in the house they once shared. The technology enabled him to watch her on a four-part screen from three-quarters of a mile away.
Dr. William Martinez, a heart surgeon at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center who lives in Avon, began a “consensual intimate personal relationship” with his employee, D’Anna M. Welsh, starting in 2001, as his own marriage was ending. He formally separated from his wife in 2005, and continued the relationship with Welsh until they broke up in 2007.
Unbeknownst to Welsh, the jury learned, her bathroom and bedroom were fitted with hidden 24-hour cameras, two of which were on either side of her bed, concealed in twin Sony Dream Machine clock radios. Another was secreted behind the speaker grill of the bedroom television, pointed at her bed. According to Welsh’s attorneys, Jamie L. Mills, of Hartford, and Antonio Ponvert, of Bridgeport’s Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, Martinez also rigged her computer keyboard with a keystroke tracking device, and bugged her car with a global positioning system service that provided him with a map of her travels on a daily basis.
In 2007, after the couple broke up, Welsh sensed that she was being watched, somehow, when Martinez would arrive home at odd hours, and have Martinez show up munutes later, hoping to reconcile. “She felt she was being listened to, and watched,” said Mills.
In early 2008, Welsh called a plumber to fix a leak, and he found that a floor joist had been sawed out in the three-foot crawl space beneath the house. “The plumber wanted to know what all the wires and blinking lights and electronic equipment were all about,” said Ponvert.
Mills described it as “a bit Star Wars-y.”
Upset, Welsh called in the Bloomfield police, who charged the doctor with eavesdropping and invasion of privacy. Sounding contrite, Martinez applied for accelerated rehabilitation, to keep the charge from creating a criminal record. He promised the judge all the surveillance equipment had been removed from the house, and that he would have no contact at all with Welsh in the future. One term of his probation forbade Martinez from coming within 100 feet of Welsh.
Not all the cameras were removed, however. One was in an electronic air freshening appliance and another was in the speaker grill of the bedroom TV, pointed directly at the woman’s bed. Between 2008 and 2010, Welsh met and married a Bloomfield police officer with a small daughter. The cameras still continued to operate, recording video on a 15-day loop cycle, but they were not discovered until 2010.
“She had sometthing like PTSD,” said Ponvert. “She ground her teeth to the point where she cracked molars, and was extremely distraught from feeling that she was being watched.”
Hartford Superior Court Judge Anthony Robaina presided over the trial, which concluded with a verdict for $2 million, handed down June 25. The jury also found the doctor’s infliction of emotional distress was “intentional, wilful, wanton or malicious, ” resulting in punitive damages, which will allow the attorneys to apply for attorneys fees and costs, estimated to increase the payout to $2.7 million, plus interest.
John Droney, of Farmington’s Levy & Droney, represents Martinez, and had defended him in the 2008 criminal matter as well. Droney argued that the jury should not be able to find Martinez engaged in eavesdropping or voyerism as elements of a cvil negligence per se count. Droney contended there had been no proof that his client or anyone else had received or viewed the signals broadcast on an FM band from the surveillance equipment.
“It was one hand clapping,” Droney said.
He intends to file motions for remitutur on the grounds that the jury was swayed by emotion and rendered an unreasonably large verdict. The question of an appeal is still up in the air, he said. A reversal on the negligence per se counts would not change the jury’s finding that Martinez engaged in intentional infliction of emotional distress, or that he invaded Welsh’s privacy.
On only one of the 13 interrogatories did the jury side with Martinez. The jurors found that the plaintiff had not proved that Martinez engaged in voyeurism “for the purpose of sexual gratification.”
Mills said it’s hard to see why he needed four cameras in the bedroom if his purpose was simply to monitor whether Welsh was being unfaithful to him.
Because the doctor had already admitted to police that he engaged in eavesdropping and wiretapping, the civil trial was basically a hearing on damages, Droney said. He praised Ponvert as “one of the finest trial lawyers I have seen in my career” which includes dozens of trials.
When Ponvert made his closing arguments, he calculated Welsh’s actuarial lifetime and asked the jury to return a verdict for $22 million, based on $50 an hour in future pain and suffering. The actual verdict was $20 million lower. “I’m not taking a bow,” said Droney, acknowledging it was both a highly unusual and difficult case to try.
Mills said the local police and state crimefighting agencies werre of little help. Because all charges were dismissed against Martinez in the summer of 2010, the state crime lab declined to search the house for surveillance equipment, or analyze what had been found, on grounds that there was no open criminal case, she said. Even Martinez, during the trial, was critical of the police. While being cross-examined last week by Ponvert, the doctor exclaimed angrily that, “we wouldn’t even be here today if the Bloomfield police had done their job,” and found the last camera hidden in the bedroom TV set.