SIOUX CITY | A judge has reduced the amount of a jury award to Rick Bertrand, ruling there is insufficient evidence to support claims of damages for lost business profits from libel and slander committed during his 2010 campaign for an Iowa senate seat.
District Judge Jeffrey Poulson ruled that Bertrand, a Republican, receive $50,000, rather than the $231,000 a Woodbury County District Court jury awarded at the conclusion of an April trial. The jury found that Bertrand's opponent, Rick Mullin, and the Iowa Democratic Party committed libel and slander in a negative television ad aimed at Bertrand.
Poulson, who presided over the trial, ruled that the testimony of Kyle Mattes was "too speculative to support an award of lost profits."
Mattes, a University of Iowa political science professor, was called by Bertrand's lawyers to estimate the potential profits the ad caused Bertrand to lose at his downtown Sioux City businesses, McCarthy and Bailey's Irish Pub and the Big Snug. The establishments opened after the election, which Bertrand won by 286 votes to claim the District 1 senate seat.
Poulson ruled that Mattes' formula used to calculate lost profits was flawed.
"... The evidence for 'lost profits' is so speculative that it cannot support the jury's verdict," Poulson wrote in his 31-page ruling, in which he also denied Mullin's request to either overturn the jury's verdict or grant a new trial.
Mullin must pay $6,705 of the jury award, with the Iowa Democratic Party paying the remaining $43,295.
Steve Wandro, who represented Mullin and the Democratic Party, said the reduction was not surprising.
"We had always felt that Bertrand's damages claim was weak, and that was borne out by the judge's decision," Wandro said.
Mullin declined to comment.
Bertrand said the ruling was not unexpected and downplayed it, saying the important part of the ruling was that Poulson upheld the verdict.
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"At the end of the day, we're excited the verdict was upheld," Bertrand said. "The amount to us is irrelevant. This has never been about money for me. This is about principles. This is about changing the face of politics."
Bertrand's attorney, Jeana Goosman, said she would appeal Poulson's decision to the state Supreme Court.
"We expect the Iowa Supreme Court to set this right and restore the jury's well-supported verdict," Goosman said.
It will be the second appeal resulting from the case. Shortly after the trial, Bertrand appealed Poulson's decision during trial to deny the jury the option of awarding punitive damages to Bertrand. Goosman said the planned appeal of the award reduction would be added to the current appeal.
Bertrand sued Mullin shortly before the November 2010 election after Mullin's campaign aired an ad that accused Bertrand and his employer of marketing dangerous drugs to children. The ad said Bertrand "put profits ahead of children's health."
Bertrand, a former regional manager for biotech company Takeda North America, the U.S. unit of Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., said he never sold the pediatric drug alluded to in the ad, a claim Poulson said was supported by evidence presented at trial.
Goosman said the Supreme Court's eventual ruling in the case will help shape future political campaigns.
"We look forward to the Iowa Supreme Court recognizing there is a limit to defamation in political races," she said.
Wandro agreed that whatever the court's ruling, it will be precedent-setting.
"We need to establish some parameters, and this will be a good case for the Supreme Court to establish those boundaries," Wandro said.