The Rhode Island Superior Court has overturned a slander lawsuit against Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena. Polisena had been ordered to pay $20,000 in damages to former town councilmember Eileen Fuoco, according to Bill Rappleye at Channel 10 News. The verdict also allowed Fuoco to collect two terms of town councilmember salary, which amounted to four years at around $7000 a year. The Superior Court ruled that the jury verdict was based on a lack of understanding of the jury instructions. The jury, said the court, found malice where there had been none on the part of Polisena.
The court did grant Fuoco’s motion for a new trial.
The court writes:
“The jury’s verdict in this case demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of the jury as to the instructions this Court provided prior to deliberations. The instructions, which neither party objected to, highlighted Councilwoman Fuoco’s burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Mayor Polisena acted with actual malice. Despite the definition of clear and convincing that this Court; provided, the jury found Mayor Polisena acted with actual malice. While there is no question that the Mayor hoped to undermine Councilwoman Fuoco’s standing with her constituents, no evidence whatsoever was offered at trial as to Mayor Polisena’s subjective knowledge of the falsity of his statements. The trial evidence was also wholly inadequate to support finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mayor Polisena acted with reckless disregard for the truth of his statements. Indeed, the evidence demonstrated that each and every complained of statement he made at the Meeting was accurate in whole or in part, and the accuracy of those statements was not seriously rebutted at trial. Councilwoman Fuoco questioned Mayor Polisena’s opinions and the conclusions he drew from the facts he presented, but as previously discussed, opinions based upon disclosed, non-defamatory facts are not themselves defamatory.”
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