Friday, May 22–Judge Denies Chamber’s Bid For New Trial In Civil Suit

SNOW HILL – A Worcester County Circuit Court judge this week denied a motion for a new trial filed by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce in the civil suit between the agency and its former executive director, bringing a measure of closure to the ongoing case although an appeal is still possible.

Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Groton III on Tuesday denied a motion filed by chamber attorney William Hickey late last month seeking a new trial in the civil suit with former executive director Daniel Barufaldi. At the close of a three-day trial in April, a Worcester County jury ruled in favor of Barufaldi, awarding the Chamber’s former executive director $60,000 in damages.

Less than two weeks later, Hickey filed several new motions in the case including a motion seeking a new trial. Attached to the motion for a new trial were 10 exhibits including an original counter-claim filed by the chamber late in the game against Barufaldi seeking roughly $500,000 against the former executive director alleging he breached the terms of the rather nebulous contract at the heart of the case.

Last week, it was reported the counter-claim against Barufaldi was a new development in the case, but it was actually attached to the motion for a new trial as one of 10 exhibits supporting the bid for a new trial. The counter-claim was filed prior to the trial in April, and Groton dismissed it as a matter of course before the case was brought in front of a jury. Essentially, the counter-claim was included in the motions filed for a new trial, but was not re-filed last week because the judge had already ruled on it.

“After a trial, the parties have 10 days to ask the judge to consider changing the verdict,” said Hickey on Wednesday. “During the course of the trial, the judge dismissed our counter-claim. Because we felt it shouldn’t have been dismissed, we included it as an exhibit in our motion for a new trial.”

Hickey said the chamber’s bid for a new trial and the accompanying exhibits were post-trial motions filed as part of the routine protocol in a civil case and had to be filed within 10 days of the verdict in the case. While the defense attorney did his due diligence by filing the post-trial motions, he did so without a realistic hope the judge would reverse the verdict and grant a new trial in the case.

“Generally speaking, they don’t typically reverse a verdict, but you have to try on behalf of your client,” he said.

At the close of a three-day trial in April, a Worcester County jury awarded Barufaldi $60,000 in damages in the suit filed against his previous employer alleging breach of contract and other charges related to his hiring, employment and eventual resignation from the post. Barufaldi was seeking an undisclosed amount of damages in the suit, but a source close to the case suggested the final verdict represented a compromise of sorts by the jury in the complicated case.

In the suit, Barufaldi alleged he was never offered a formal contract when hired by the chamber in November 2005, nor were the terms of employment ever finalized. At issue were the conditions of his employment related to incentive bonuses for increased chamber revenues from historic baselines under Barufaldi’s watch.

The chamber’s counter-claim, filed prior to trial and resurrected last week only as an exhibit in the motion for a new trial, alleged it was Barufaldi who breached his contract in a number of ways by failing to provide and perform all of the services spelled out in the contract and by actively seeking other employment, namely a position in the same capacity with the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, a position he took and was later terminated.

This week, Groton denied the chamber’s motion for remittitur, essentially a bid for a new trial in the case, but there is one outstanding motion the judge had not ruled on as of late Wednesday.

Barufaldi, through his attorney, filed a motion seeking attorney fees be attached to damages. Hickey said this week the judge’s ultimate decision on the attorney fees issue could be the lynchpin for a decision to appeal the case to the state’s Court of Special Appeals.

“We have 30 days to file an appeal, but no decision has been made,” he said. “The one outstanding motion relates to the plaintiff’s bid for attorney fees and that might influence a decision to appeal. If the judge awards the attorney fees, then they [the chamber] may appeal. They haven’t made up their mind about an appeal.”

Hickey said if the chamber opts to appeal, there are certain elements of the case, and the trial specifically, that could lead to a favorable outcome.

“Naturally, we were all very disappointed with the outcome,” he said. “There are things that happened during the course of the trial that we could hang our hats on in an appeal. We just have to wait and see and weigh all of the options.”