Justice Watch: Appeal Seeks To Reinstate $155M Aventura Verdict

, Daily Business Review


Katherine Murphy
Katherine Murphy

"Mr. Soroka did not violate any of Dr. Murphy's rights under either federal or Florida law," Burke said. "We feel Judge Rodriguez correctly applied Florida law in directing a verdict in his favor because all of his actions that he took visa vis Dr. Murphy were within the scope of his function as city manager of Aventura."

The school is funded with tax dollars and operated by the city and Charter Schools USA Inc.

Murphy sued the school and Soroka for defamation and infliction of emotional distress in 2009. The jury found Soroka liable for $500,000 in punitive damages. There were no damages against Charter Schools USA. The vast amount of award was for lost pay, medical expenses, pain and suffering.

Salary and benefits for the city manager's office, which includes Soroka, a code enforcement officer, secretary and receptionist, totals $645,604, according to the latest city budget. The Aventura City Council passed a resolution to pay for Soroka's punitive damages if need be.

Attorneys Richard J. Burton, Daniel J. Poterek and Marc A. Burton of the Burton Firm in Aventura worked so closely with Murphy on the trial and appeal that they hired her as the firm's office manager.

Poterek said he notified three Aventura police officers on Sept. 19, 2012, that he would take their depositions. His car window was smashed at the Aventura Mall that evening, and his case files and laptop were stolen. When he arrived home in Coral Gables that night, three Aventura police cars drove by as he got out of his vehicle, Poterek said.

"It was shocking to say the least," he said. "It's over 20 miles out of the way and definitely outside their city limits."

A call to the Aventura police department for comment was not returned by deadline.

Though Murphy is grateful to be working with the Burton Firm, she pines for her lost career. "The devastation to me is more than knowing that I won and the verdict was taken away. It's not being able to participate in my chosen field where my hopes, dreams and ambitions lie," she said.

Murphy claimed in her defamation lawsuit that her dismissal was retribution for her questioning Soroka on finances and policy.

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