Outcome of lawsuit in favor of White on all charges

DEFENDANT: Evart lawyer James White testifies Thursday in Osceola County's 49th Circuit Court defending himself against allegations made in a lawsuit by Virginia Staats, a former employee. Staats accused White of defamation, intentional misrepresentation, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Staats worked for White as a bookkeeper and was accused of embezzling from White Law Office. She was found not guilty in a 2011 criminal trial. (Pioneer photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

DEFENDANT: Evart lawyer James White testifies Thursday in Osceola County’s 49th Circuit Court defending himself against allegations made in a lawsuit by Virginia Staats, a former employee. Staats accused White of defamation, intentional misrepresentation, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Staats worked for White as a bookkeeper and was accused of embezzling from White Law Office. She was found not guilty in a 2011 criminal trial. (Pioneer photo/Emily Grove-Davis)

REED CITY — No monetary damages will be awarded to Virginia Staats from James White as a result of the lawsuit she filed against him — not even the $1 he previously offered to pay her in settlement.

The six-person jury decided in favor of White on Thursday night regarding the allegation of intentional infliction of emotional distress alleged by Staats. Earlier in the day’s proceedings, Judge Scott Hill-Kennedy granted three motions for directed verdicts on the claims of defamation, intentional misrepresentation and malicious prosecution, also finding there was no cause to those allegations.

White’s lawyer, James Talaske, asked for the motions on all the charges once the plaintiff’s case rested, stating there was not enough evidence for the jury to even deliberate the four claims.

“There was only one possible incident that was testified to as possible defamation, and that witness was not even able to identify when that statement happened,” Talaske said.

Upon Hill-Kennedy granting the directed verdicts for three of the four counts, Talaske re-offered to settle with the plaintiff for $1. If she accepted the offer, it would spare Staats from having to pay for attorney fees in the event the ruling was favorable for White.

Staats declined the offered and her attorney, Jonathan Browning continued to attempt proving White had intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon his client by accusing her of embezzlement, which ultimately led to a criminal trial. Staats was found not guilty of the crime.

Staats testified that she was embarrassed to go out in public and rarely did so after she was fired from White’s office. She also said she was emotionally distraught and may have needed to seek counseling, but did not do so because she no longer had health insurance after being fired.

Talaske called multiple witnesses, including Det. Sgt. George Pratt, a retired officer from the former Reed City Michigan State Police post who investigated the criminal case against Staats.

Talaske questioned Pratt about Staats’ emotional state during a meeting between Staats, Pratt and her previous attorney, prior to the criminal trial.

“She was not inconsolable, was she?” Talaske asked. “Did she show any signs of being emotionally devastated or despondent?”

“Not that I can recall from memory,” Pratt answered.

Throughout the three-day trial, Staats maintained that White authorized her to write numerous checks to herself for bonuses, health insurance and other expenses, then later accused her of embezzling in order to collect money from insurance for an employee dishonesty claim.

White took the stand and refuted her claims.

“I never gave her advice on her personal tax returns and told her to hide those checks,” he said. “I also did not authorize an extra $100 per week for her or an extra $200 per week.”

The jury took less than one hour to reach a verdict on the charge of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

White and Staats both had no comment after the decision was announced. Because of the decision in White’s favor, Talaske said Staats will be billed for White’s legal fees and a hearing will be held as necessary to work out the details.

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Posted by Emily Grove

Emily is the Pioneer and Herald Review crime and court reporter, covering crime in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. She can be reached by e-mail at emily@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8362.

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