Lawyers representing a cement company and truck driver found negligent in a traffic death were “searching for anything to justify a do over” when they accused a prominent Charlottesville attorney of lying to the court and withholding evidence in relation to the wrongful death case, according to arguments filed on behalf of the accused attorney.
Attorneys representing Allied Concrete Co. and truck driver William Donald Sprouse filed documents on July 5 in the Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk’s Office that question whether the roughly $10.6 million verdict in a December trial against the driver and company should stand.
Sprouse was charged with reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter in the 2007 death of Jessica Lester, who was traveling on Route 53 when the cement truck toppled onto her Honda. Lester suffered a severe head injury and died later of her wounds.
In 2008 Sprouse pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge, and was sentenced to two years in prison, with all but 30 days suspended.
Company attorneys said the December 2010 jury verdict awarding Lester’s husband, Isaiah, and her parents $10.6 million should be overturned because of pre-trial actions by Isaiah Lester and his attorney, Matthew B. Murray.
Murray is the immediate past president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and, at the time of the trial, the lead in the Charlottesville office of Allen & Allen. He has since resigned.
Murray has admitted to withholding a March 2009 email from the company’s attorneys and the court prior to trial in which he advised Isaiah Lester to clean up his Facebook page.
The email was written after attorneys for Sprouse and Allied Concrete Co. found photos, including one with Lester wearing a T-shirt with “I [love] hot moms” written on it while holding a can of beer and wearing a garter belt on his head.
Murray turned the email over to the court after the trial when he was confronted about it by attorneys for the company and for his own firm.
But Murray’s attorneys deny claims that Murray told Lester in May to delete photos from the Facebook page that might portray him in a negative light during the trial.
They also deny claims that Murray improperly failed to disclose a business association with the jury’s forewoman, Amanda Hoy, who is the former executive director of Meals on Wheels of Charlottesville. They also deny that Hoy perjured herself when she said she had no relationship with Murray prior to being seated as a juror.
Hoy’s charity and Murray’s firm worked together, but the two only communicated in sporadic emails and never met, attorneys said.
“When the court considers all the evidence, it will find a wealth of documentary evidence … refuting the charges that Murray participated in [deleting Facebook photos] and that Ms. Hoy perjured herself and Murray knew it,” Thomas W. Williamson Jr. wrote in an argument filed in the Charlottesville Circuit Court case. Williamson represents Murray.
Williamson notes that emails show Murray “crafting but later reversing an ill-conceived decision to take down the Facebook page and claim on April 15 that Lester did not have a page.” He told the court that Murray’s controversial email was sent in March. He said logs subpoenaed from Facebook show that the photos were not deleted until May and that they occurred while Murray was out of the office.
Of the 16 photos deleted, 15 were retrieved and used in the wrongful death trial.
“According to the [Facebook] logs and phone records, no viewing or printing out of the Facebook page at the Allen firm office occurred during the day of May 11” when Lester deleted photos, Williamson said. “The [company attorneys] have failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Murray should be sanctioned for the May 11 [deletions].”
The company’s attorneys have until Aug. 10 to file rebuttal arguments. A hearing in the case has been set for Sept. 23.