By DANIEL HERATY
DEARBORN – A United States District Judge awarded former 19th District Court Deputy Administrator Julie Pucci $1.2 million in damages and lawyer fees stemming from a 2007 lawsuit against 19th District Court Judge Mark Somers.
U.S. District Court Eastern District Judge David Lawson upheld a jury’s decision in a legal opinion filed Dec. 16, awarding Pucci about $735,000 in compensatory damages and about $417,000 in attorney fees. Lawson also denied Somers’ appeal to dismiss a June ruling that he denied Pucci’s constitutional rights by firing her.
“We’re pleased with the position,” Pucci’s Detroit-based attorney Joel Sklar said. “It’s the right decision. We are happy
with what Judge Lawson did in this case.”
Somers said he was disappointed by the ruling, adding that he already has requested the Michigan Attorney General’s office start the appeals process. He added that he felt some relief the end of the case is in sight.
“I’m disappointed, and I thought the motions were meritorious,” he said. “But there’s at least one more leg of the process completed.”
Following a June civil trial in Unites States District Court Eastern District of Michigan, a jury of eight men and two women found Somers retaliated against Pucci’s formal complaints against him by eliminating her position in 2007. Pucci filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Somers, claiming she was fired without just cause.
According to the court ruling, Somers’ appeal was dismissed because Pucci spoke out against Somers as a concerned citizen, rather than a court employee. The ruling also stated while the court’s atmosphere allegedly deteriorated due to Pucci’s claims, the alleged damage to the court’s morale was minimal, and protected free speech.
“In this case,” the ruling states, “(Somers) has shown only that (Pucci’s) speech caused disharmony in a workplace already ringing with sour notes.”
Sklar also said the ruling brings a sense of finality to the matter, adding the “beginning of the end” of the case came with the jury’s decision in June. He said collecting damages is the next step.
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” he said. “It’s been a righteous case.”
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected])