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MA Appeals Court affirms $2.9M defamation verdict for client

David H. Rich persuaded the Massachusetts Appeals Court to affirm a $2.9 million defamation jury verdict for his client, Philip Eliopoulos, a former public official in Chelmsford subjected to a lengthy campaign of multiple defamatory statements.

In a detailed review of the record, the Appeals Court upheld the jury's findings that the defendant, Roland Van Liew, made numerous defamatory statements with actual malice over several years.

In upholding the verdict amount, which included $2.5 million for damages to Eliopoulos's reputation, the court wrote: "Based on [the] wealth of evidence, the damages awards were neither excessive nor disproportionate.  The jury well could have found that the defamation turned [the firm's client] into a pariah in his own community, a status for him that has no end in sight."

Van Liew published the defamatory statements through a variety of outlets, including mass emails, letters, a DVD sent to thousands of Chelmsford residents, online postings, and a glossy newsletter. 

The defamatory campaign was motivated by Van Liew's opposition to the sale of an historic home in Chelmsford.  The property was eventually developed into an office building.  Eliopoulos did legal work related to the sale of the property, and during the negotiations leading up to the eventual sale was a member of the town's board of selectmen.

Van Liew falsely accused the firm's client of corruption, fraud, ethics violations, and undue political influence.

Mr. Rich, a partner in the firm, has a varied litigation practice, including a concentration on First Amendment and defamation law.