The ousted principal of an Aventura charter school has won a $155 million award in a lawsuit claiming her firing was not only without cause, but ruined her health and career prospects.
The verdict came late Friday after a month-long trial and years after Katherine Murphy lost her job as principal of Aventura City of Excellence School.
But the legal case is far from over, with no certainty that Murphy will receive any of the money.
The jury sided with Murphy that Aventura City Manager Eric Soroka and the schools registrar, Nicole Monroe, conspired to ruin her reputation and that the charter company violated an oral contract with her, among other charges.
Lawyers for Soroka and Charter Schools USA have asked Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez to overturn the jury verdict and rule against the principal. Hearings are set for Wednesday.
The jury verdict is contrary to the evidence presented at trial, and we are confident that Mr. Sorokas motion will dispose of the lawsuit, said Michael Burke, an attorney for Soroka.
The judge could also reduce the award.
More often than not, you dont see that many verdicts of $155 million actually being paid by governmental entities, said Murray Greenberg, a former Miami-Dade county attorney and professor at Florida International University.
The principals high-profile legal team, led by Richard Burton and Ben Kuehne, will take all legal opportunities to enforce the jurys entire amount, which includes $500,000 in punitive damages against Soroka and $60,000 against Charter Schools USA for breaking an oral agreement.
The award amount shows the jurys extreme outrage at the evidence of the defendants mistreatment, humiliation and attempt to ruin the reputation of Dr. Murphy, an esteemed educator whose life is now a shadow of what it was before, Kuehne said. The jury saw what happened in this case and was very measured in their condemnation of all of these defendants.
Murphys relationship with Aventura goes back to 2003, when she left a senior management position with Charter Schools USA to help found the new K-8 charter.
The school is funded with tax dollars but is operated by the city of Aventura and Charter Schools USA. The Aventura City Commission serves as its governing board. Charter Schools USA, which runs about a dozen South Florida charter schools, acts as the managing company. Murphy was hired at a $89,500 salary with the city and another $40,000 as a consultant with the management company. Quickly, the Aventura school got A grades from the state, a long waiting list for admission and even a visit from then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
In December 2006, Murphy was abruptly fired.
The reason, according to the lawsuit, stemmed from the accusation that a fifth-grader was allowed admission without going through the wait list. Soroka blamed Murphy and accused her of taking illegal kickbacks to enroll the student, Jake Norman, according to the suit.
Soroka fired her in a phone call and charged that she f---ing took money from Jake Normans parents to enroll Jake in the school, didnt you? ... and if you come back, the entire staff will leave ... they do not like you, according to the suit.
Even before her termination, Murphy alleged that Soroka regularly called her names like whore and slut and ridiculed her for attending events with Aventura city commissioners.