Same case, two vastly different perspectives in a multi-million dollar civil judgment for a Pauls Valley city councilman for online accusations made against him last summer.
When the legal dust had settled it was PV’s vice mayor, Patrick Grimmett, who was awarded a $4 million judgment for what a Garvin County judge ruled were the libelous statements made in Facebook statements by Joel “Skip” Mitchell of Lindsay.
On one side it was Grimmett’s defense team that argued Mitchell had failed to provide proof of his accusations aimed at Grimmett, such as the claim he had committed domestic abuse.
On the other side Mitchell said the Jan. 25 hearing in a Garvin County District courtroom was not the appropriate place for him to present the evidence backing up his claims.
In the end District Judge Leah Edwards awarded Grimmett a total of $2 million for the emotional distress caused by Mitchell’s false statements and another $2 million to “punish the defendant and set an example to deter others from like conduct,” according to court records in the case.
“The message is clear – those who make false allegations will be held accountable,” said Brett Agee, one of Grimmett’s attorneys, about the judgment against Mitchell’s company, Forum Consulting Group, LLC.
The actual statements made by Mitchell last June were Grimmett had beaten his current and former wife, had committed adultery and had engaged in “criminal conduct and will be serving time in prison.”
After last week’s hearing Agee says Mitchell was given the opportunity but chose not to testify or present any evidence supporting his online claims against Grimmett.
Agee said that’s an important part of the case since Mitchell had the “burden of proof to prove the statements he made against Patrick.”
“Mr. Mitchell did excuse himself and leave the courtroom during the hearing. Before he left I said I wanted to call him to the stand to testify. He did not want to testify,” Agee said.
Mitchell told the PV Democrat he’s not backing down from this statements against Grimmett but chose not to testify because he believes the case had not progressed to the point where he could present his evidence.
“I’m not going to hide from this,” Mitchell said. “I’m addressing it head on.
“I would love to present the evidence to a jury, but we’ve never gotten to the point where we can present the evidence.
“I left when the hearing was over for my part,” he said, adding since he's not a licensed attorney he wasn’t able to represent himself in the case against Forum.
“I anticipated being called to the stand, so it’s a procedural move on my part. I wouldn’t have been able to present my side. If I can’t speak for Forum then I’m not going to testify to benefit (Agee).”
On the other side of the case Grimmett’s attorneys had to prove Mitchell’s actions were “malicious and libelous.”
“Our evidence was to play clips of his horrible videos showing him attacking Patrick,” Agee said.
“The judge saw with her own eyes and heard with her own ears what Skip was posting.”
As for the $4 million figure in the judgment, Agee says it’s up to the judge’s interpretation of the law and the evidence presented in the courtroom.
Edwards ruling split up the judgment awarding Grimmett half the total figure for “actual damages” and the other half for “punitive damages.”
“The law leaves it up to the discretion of the judge,” Agee adds.
“The $2 million judgment is what she believed is the amount to compensate Patrick for the emotional distress. The other $2 million is to punish the (Forum) LLC and deter others from this kind of action.”
The Pauls Valley attorney said the intention now is to take the proper legal steps to help Grimmett recover the funds awarded in the judgement.
“Patrick is entitled to recover that money. We haven’t recovered any yet, but we will be pressing that.”
Mitchell is not only going up against Grimmett but he’s also working to disqualify Agee and Jay Carlton as his attorneys on the claim there’s a conflict of interest.
“I’m confident in the case law,” Mitchell said about this portion of the case.
“I don’t want people to lose sight of the reason we got involved in this; people had been wronged; the hospital employees who were never fully paid,” he said, referring to him being the leading voice pushing for an investigative audit of the now closed hospital in Pauls Valley.
The local hospital, which did shut down operations in October 2018, is now the focus of an audit coming later this year after Mitchell and his supporters were successful a few months ago in a second citizens’ petition drive.
“I fully respect the court. Judge Edwards goes to extreme measures to make a fair decision. I respectfully disagree with this one,” Mitchell said about last week’s judgment.
Mitchell, who does plan to appeal the decision, said he expects a “lot to change between now and then” when it comes to a hearing scheduled in March for Grimmett’s civil lawsuit against Mitchell as an individual.