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Rolling Stone Trial: Jury Awards Eramo $3M Total

Posted: Updated: Nov 07, 2016 10:15 PM
Nicole Eramo, Libby Locke, Thomas Clare Nicole Eramo, Libby Locke, Thomas Clare
An attorney, Sabrina Erdely and Sean Woods entering court in Charlottesville An attorney, Sabrina Erdely and Sean Woods entering court in Charlottesville
"A Rape on Campus" in Rolling Stone magazine "A Rape on Campus" in Rolling Stone magazine

The jury has awarded a total $3 million for University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo over her defamation case against Rolling Stone magazine.

It took jurors about an hour and a half to come up with the dollar figure Monday evening.

Rolling Stone attorneys have no comment on the payout, but Eramo and her attorneys are elated. They hope the jury's decisions help Eramo begin her reputation recovery.

"There's really no amount of money that could put Nicole back to the day before the article,” Libby Locke, Eramo’s attorney, said.

The jury concluded Friday, Nov. 4, that Rolling Stone, its publisher Wenner Media and author Sabrina Rubin Erdely were responsible for libel with actual malice.

The magazine published Erdely's article in its November 2014 issue. The piece focused on then-UVA student “Jackie” and her claim that she was gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in September 2012. An investigation by Charlottesville police in 2015 found no evidence to back up the claims made in the article. The magazine eventually retracted the article and apologized.

Eramo’s lawsuit claimed the three defendants defamed her. She argued Erdely's article unfairly portrayed her as a villain, indifferent to Jackie's allegation.

Eramo was initially seeking $7.5 million in damages.

Trial resumed at 8 a.m. Monday, Nov. 7.

Thomas Clare, one of Eramo’s attorneys, was the first to addressed the jury. He pointed out that Erdely’s article reached roughly 14.3 million people before Rolling Stone attached an editor’s note to the piece on December 5, informing readers that there were some discrepancies with Jackie’s story.

Defense attorney William Paxton said to jurors, "We respect your verdict." He also apologized, saying, “words can't solve all the problems, but it's important we apologize."

Eramo took the witness stand a little after 8:30 a.m. She talked about her life before and after the article was published. Eramo recounted how she read “A Rape on Campus” the day it was released.

"It was like reading about somebody who had my name and my face, but I didn't recognize me," she said.

Eramo told the court that she contemplated committing suicide the weekend after Erdely’s article came out, saying "I just wanted to disappear."

Jurors heard Eramo testify about trying to cope following the publication, the effect it had on her family, and her frustration over the editor's note Rolling Stone later added to the article.

Eramo also went into detail about a small tumor removed from her breast in 2009, and that another form of breast cancer was located and removed in the fall of 2014.

The article was still up on Rolling Stone’s website when Eramo began receiving chemotherapy. "It made things harder than they had to be," she told the court.

Two taped depositions were played following Eramo’s testimony: Jann Simon Wenner, cofounder and publisher of Rolling Stone, and publisher Michael Provus. Both tapes went over advertising rates, circulation numbers, and other forms of data to establish how many people saw Erdely’s article.

Dr. Kant Lin, a reconstructive plastic surgeon, then took the witness stand. Lin talked about the significance of having stress in one's life before surgery. He also testified how the article coming out a month before Eramo went under the knife made things more difficult medically.

Eramo had considered reconstructive surgery following her battle with breast cancer, but said she decided against going through with the procedure.

Her job is now more administrative, though Eramo did lose her position as an associate dean at UVA, but she said she doesn’t have the same relationships with students. "It wasn't just a job. It was meaningful," she said.

The plaintiff mentioned that she has no idea of the long-term implications of Erdely’s article, adding, "This is out there forever."

Kirt Von Daacke, an associate professor and assistant dean at UVA, testified about how the article affected his wife, Nicole Eramo.

He said, "It destroyed her," and that Eramo would, “cry herself to sleep."

"She [Eramo] was the victim of the world's worst bullying campaign,” he told the court.

Von Daacke recalled his wife having suicidal thoughts while under a desk: "She said, 'I can't go on anymore, I can't live anymore,’" he said.

According to Von Daacke, the editor’s note only hurt his wife a second time: "Her entire career was gone in a flash," he said.

Von Daacke said his wife is not the same person she was before Erdely’s article.

The court took a short break a little before 3:30 p.m. before the defense began.

The defense entered into evidence a couple of reports from the Office of Civil Rights. The documents are in relation to the university’s Title IX investigation. Defense attorneys asked the jury to think about Eramo's salary when determining a damage amount, saying she is "handsomely paid." The defense also brought up the magazine's apologies to Eramo as a factor, saying it's "rare for publications to issue apologies at all."

After jurors finished the decision to award Eramo $2 million from Erdely and $1 million from Rolling Stone LLC and Wenner Media LLC, they spoke united through Debbie Parmalee, who read a statement and took no questions.

"With careful consideration of the facts and evidence for determining damages, the jury made its determination, Parmalee said.

Eramo's attorneys maintain it's not about the money, rather restoring their clients reputation.

"I'm certainly happy to be putting this behind me and getting to the next chapter of my life," Eramo said.

Erdley's judgement fee will be handled by Rolling Stone.

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