Student Gets $6M in Defamation Suit
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ A jury awarded $6 million Tuesday to a former University of Florida student who was the target of a smear campaign that falsely accused him of being a child molester when he ran for campus president.
The verdict was the latest development in the scandal involving Florida Blue Key, the prestigious honor society that counts among its alumni governors and senators.
Charles Grapski, who ran for student body president in 1995, accused Blue Key and two of its ``operatives″ of posting dozens of fliers that falsely accused him of being a child molester.
A jury considering Grapski’s defamation lawsuit against one of those operatives, Peter Vlcek, awarded Grapski $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
Vlcek, who at the time was a 38-year-old law student, did not appear at the trial and did not have an attorney representing him.
Circuit Judge Elzie Sanders ordered a directed verdict against Vlcek Monday after hearing evidence from five witnesses. Blue Key previously had settled with Grapski, now a political science doctoral student in London, for $85,000 and a third defendant is appealing an $80,000 judgment he’s been ordered to pay.
Grapski’s attorney, Florida law professor Joe Little, said he was surprised at the verdict and that Grapski too was surprised _ and elated.
``I think it’s fully justified,″ Little said. ``The jury sensed a great wrong and sent a message.″
Vlcek could not be reached for comment, but in a 1998 trial of another Blue Key member, he denied posting the fliers. Little said he expects Vlcek to either appeal the verdict or file a motion for a new trial.