CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – Three businessmen defamed for years with wild accusations on a mortgage company’s neon billboards won a record-breaking $274.5 million verdict from a New Hampshire jury.
The jury returned its verdict Friday after a three-day trial, finding former New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Michael Gill liable for nearly $275 million related to a three-year campaign he waged against the CEO of a local auto dealer, a banker and a real estate developer.
Steven M. Gordon of Shaheen & Gordon said the award in Merrimack County is believed to the largest figure in the state’s history.
Gordon’s clients filed suit in Hillsborough last year over a large electronic billboard in Manchester, close to a popular mall and visible from a busy highway, where Gill put the words “Drug Dealer” and “Extortion” alongside pictures of them and their names.
Their complaint said Gill also used his radio show and website “State of Corruption” to accuse the men of dealing drugs and killing children.
After three different judges in Hillsborough stepped aside because of conflict of interests, the case moved to Merrimack. Last month a judge there ordered the messages removed, found Gill liable for damages and held a jury trial on damages.
Friday’s verdict was significantly more than the $114 million the plaintiffs’ counsel requested.
“Gill’s statements were evil,” Gordon said in a statement. “In our system of justice, facts are determined in court rooms and not on the internet. We are grateful and humbled by the jury’s verdict. The size of the verdict will forever be the answer to Gill’s false statements.”
Andrew Crews of Auto Fair was granted $97 million, Primary Bank founder William Greiner $85 million, and developer Dick Anagnost $92.5 million. None of the men had ever had any business associations with Gill, who owns a business called The Mortgage Specialists, their attorney said.
Co-counsel Timothy McLaughlin also applauded the verdict.
“Today, Mr. Gill paid the penalty for his malicious conduct,” McLaughlin said in a statement. “The jury saw first-hand the personal harm and pain his false statements caused and today in the Merrimack County Superior Court justice was done. I am deeply moved to be part of this process of redemption.”
Gill represented himself. He also faces civil defamation claims from attorney Alex Walker, who says Gill used the same electronic billboards to post the words “Attempted Murder” beside his face and name.
The management company where Gill’s office is located also sued him in March, saying his “outlandish, offensive and inflammatory allegations” on the billboards diminished the value of the real estate.
Gill did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday.