A Miami-Dade judge vacated a multimillion-dollar verdict Wednesday in favor of a fired Aventura’s charter school principal.
Attorneys in the case disagreed whether the complex 14-page verdict form provided for a $155 million or a $45 million award. The verdict was handed down Friday night to end a four-week trial.
Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez issued directed verdicts in favor of the city and City Manager Eric Soroka, who was found liable for defaming Katherine Murphy. The judge also handed down directed verdicts in favor of an employee of Aventura City of Excellence School and Charter Schools USA Inc., which assisted in school staffing.
Murphy, who holds a doctorate in education, claimed Soroka defamed her publicly in a dispute over a student’s position on the school’s waiting list. She also claimed Soroka repeatedly cursed at her and used sexual innuendo. Doctors testified the stress of her dismissal caused a ruptured colon that put Murphy in a coma.
Rodriguez found Soroka had absolute immunity as a city employee, attorneys on both sides said.
Attorney John Richards, a partner at Fort Lauderdale’s Boyd, Richards, Parker & Colonnelli who represented Charter Schools USA, said his client was dragged into a lawsuit that was essentially a dispute between Aventura and Murphy.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Burke, who represented the city and Soroka, said by email that Rodriguez “found that the evidence presented at trial did not support any of the claims” made by Murphy. Burke is a partner at Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman in Fort Lauderdale.
Murphy’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, said he was bewildered at Rodriguez’s ruling, adding the issue of Soroka’s immunity had been ruled on previously by another circuit judge and an appellate court. He said the jury implicitly found Soroka acted outside his authority as city manager.
The judge on Monday denied a plaintiff’s motion to recuse her after Murphy expressed concerns Rodriguez may be biased against her.
“In spite of the jury’s very clear findings, Judge Rodriguez’s findings are difficult to understand, but that’s what the appellate court will have to review,” Kuehne said.