Greg Meffert sounds drained. It's been about 24 hours since a jury found the city's former technology chief to be partially liable (along with Dell Inc. and two firms owned by city vendor Mark St. Pierre) in a civil trial filed by plaintiffs Southern Electronics Supply Inc. and Active Solutions LLC.
The companies had sought $3.6 billion in punitive damages from Dell stemming from the city's crime-camera deal, and the jury had awarded Southern and Active a total of $12.8 million -- a fraction of what they had asked for. But along with the major award, the jury also awarded $3.5 million in damages for contract interference, assigning blame to Meffert, St. Pierre's company, and Southern and Active in precise proportions. 27 percent of the fault, the jury found, was with the plaintiffs themselves; 30 percent was the fault of Imagine Software (one of St. Pierre's firms); and 43 percent was Meffert's fault.
Meffert's lawyer, Randall A. Smith, told Gambit it was unclear whether Meffert would be responsible for a portion of the $3.5 million judgment, as his client was held liable for less than 50 percent of the blame.
"I'm a little numb, I guess," Meffert said by telephone this afternoon. "I've gotten a lot of well-wisher emails. On the blogs theres a lot of hang-him-high stuff. But a lot of good friends have offered a lot of support. They know the truth and they know who I am -- not this caricature."
The caricature, Meffert said, was the result of coverage in The Times-Picayune, which he described today as being "beyond New York Post-level." In a statement released after the verdict through Smith, Meffert implied the reportage of an unnamed newspaper had prejudiced the jury, and he promised legal action:
This verdict and trial attest to the injustice of a politically-motivated newspaper partnering with profit-driven plaintiff lawyers. This unholy alliance destroyed my reputation and my ability to make a living for my family; clearly, the justice system can be manipulated in the name of money and politics.
The papers actions went beyond bad journalism in its efforts to deprive me of my civil rights. The newspaper obviously feels it is an authority higher than our legal system, even betraying the public trust, and I am forced to pursue legal recourse against them for intentional damage.
My family has suffered relentless, intentionally erroneous and mean-spirited attacks by the newspaper attempting to prejudice a jury. This indecent alliance aborted journalistic objectivity and misled our justice system.
As The Times-Picayune itself assumed, Meffert said he was indeed referring to its coverage of the city technology office and civil trial. "Im on the front page even more than presidents and murderers and drug dealers - even more than Drew Brees. Im just not that damn important to have gotten that much damn coverage," he said, adding, "The Times-Picayune is the biggest bully in town. And they know it. They print these headlines in 'World War II Declared' [sized] font, and then any correction is buried in the lottery results."
Is he still intending to sue? Yes, said Meffert. "Ive just got to catch my breath from all this stuff, and then I'll sit down with my lawyers."
(Jim Amoss, editor of The Times-Picayune, is out of the office this week and couldn't be reached for comment. Managing editor Peter Kovacs told Gambit: "I think our reporting speaks for itself, and I think we stand by that reporting." As for Meffert's claim that the paper buries its corrections in the "lottery results," Kovacs said, "I don't even know what he's talking about, and I don't want to get into that.")
Besides the now-concluded civil trial, there is a separate, parallel federal criminal investigation into the city's crime-camera contracts. In April, Smith acknowledged Meffert was a target in that investigation. Meanwhile, an appeal of the civil case seems to be in the works, though neither Smith nor Meffert would absolutely confirm that. As for his next move, Meffert said he wasn't sure: "I am absolutely drained. All I got is friends, family and truth."
Among the letters and statements of support, were there any from city officials or Meffert's old boss, Mayor Ray Nagin? Meffert laughed at the question. "What do you think?" he said.
Did he expect any to be arriving? "I doubt it," he said. "I'm kind of on my own."
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