Orange County Trial Attorney Gregory G. Brown Obtains $523,250 Jury Verdict for Real Housewives of Orange County Star Gretchen Rossi in Stalking and Assault Trial

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Gretchen Rossi prevails in her 3½-year legal battle with Jay Photoglou. A jury awarded Rossi $523,250 on her stalking and assault lawsuit and found against Photoglou on his defamation claims against Rossi. The jury also found Photoglou liable for “malice, oppression, and fraud,” and assessed rare “punitive damages” to punish him for his intentional conduct designed to harm Rossi.

Real Housewives Star Gretchen Rossi

Gretchen feels vindicated. Hopefully, everyone can now move on with their lives

On November 15, 2012, an Orange County jury awarded Real Housewives of Orange County reality TV star Gretchen Rossi $500,000 in compensatory and $23,250 in punitive damages against Jay Photoglou, according to the jury verdict. Photoglou was found liable for Stalking, Assault, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Conversion, Intentional Interference with Contract, and Intentional Interference Prospective Economic Advantage. The claims included Photoglou’s threats to kill Rossi, multiple assaults, submitting nude photos to Internet sites, harassment, and other wrongful conduct, based on the evidence presented at trial.

Photoglou also had a lawsuit against Rossi for libel, slander, and false light, according to his First Amended Complaint, seeking $1,000,000 in damages. The jury found against Photoglou on all of his defamation claims against Rossi, as established by the jury verdict.

Photoglou's suit was filed in January 2010. Rossi's was filed in April of 2010. According to court documents, the two cases were consolidated and trial began on October 22, 2012 in Orange County Superior Court case numbers 30-2010-00365771 and 30-2010-00393514.

The History

The issues began when Photoglou announced to the world on February 10, 2009 that he was Rossi’s real boyfriend and that her engagement to Jeffrey Beitzel was staged for the show, according to the evidence presented at trial. Within hours, Photoglou had gone to the National Enquirer, who ran his story, as also demonstrated by the evidence at trial. Rossi's trial testimony recounted three separate death threats by Photoglou on November 18, 2008, February 18, 2009 and March 4, 2009. Rossi obtained a Temporary Restraining Order against Photoglou on March 5, 2009, according to court documents.

The Trial

The trial testimony revealed multiple death threats by Photoglou, stalking, online harassment, 911 calls, claims of suicide attempts, and posting of nude photos of Rossi. The parties filed numerous police reports, according to the evidence at trial. There were multiple claims by Photoglou that Rossi and Slade Smiley had assaulted him. The documentary evidence in trial indicated that Photoglou had also enlisted the help of many other associates and bloggers to virtually track Rossi’s every move to harass her and interfere with her career.

The trial evidence included 3 prior restraining orders against Mr. Photoglou, showing a 22-year pattern of harassing, stalking, and threatening women he knew, according to court documents.

In finding against Photoglou, the jury did not believe there was the relationship Photoglou claimed. During trial, he was repeatedly referred to as "obsessed" with Rossi, according to the trial transcripts. Attorney Gregory G. Brown said, "Photoglou testified in his deposition that he had been engaged to Rossi." At times during the trial, Photoglou began to cry during his testimony.

According to the trial transcript, the second question asked of Photoglou on cross-examination was:

“Q.        And you have prior restraining orders against you from other
women, correct?
A.         THE WITNESS: NO”

Photoglou was then presented with 3 prior Restraining Orders issued against him by Orange County women, according to the evidence at trial.

The jury found Photoglou liable for Stalking. Brown said that civil stalking "typically involves a pattern of persistent conduct designed to place the victim in fear of her life, harass, torment or terrorize for no legitimate purpose." The trial evidence also demonstrated that Photoglou had three prior restraining orders against him from women for similar conduct.

The jury found Photoglou liable for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, which is conduct that is “outrageous” and intended to cause “severe emotional distress.” The evidence on this claim included the threats to kill, posting nude photos, online harassment, cyber stalking, and other wrongful conduct.

The jury found Photoglou liable for Assault, which is intentional conduct that demonstrates an unlawful intent to inflict immediate injury on the person of another. The evidence on this claim included the threats to kill to both Rossi and her significant other, Slade Smiley.

The jury found Photoglou liable for Conversion, which is the wrongful taking of the property of another. The jury was presented with evidence that Photoglou took Rossi’s $8,000 set of 4 rims & tires, camera memory card (with photos), and her personal printed photos.

The jury found Photoglou liable for Intentional Interference with Contract, which is intentional conduct designed to disrupt or interfere with Rossi’s appearance and business contracts. The conduct alleged involved sending the nude photos (that Photoglou had previously provided to the Internet websites) to companies that Rossi had business relationships with or ongoing contracts.

Finally, the jury found Photoglou liable for Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage, which is intentional conduct designed to disrupt or interfere with potential business deals that probably would have resulted in economic benefit to Rossi. This alleged conduct also involved sending the same nude photos to companies, individuals and charities that were working with Rossi. Rossi claimed that this conduct caused her to lose potential business and appearances.

Jurors Discuss the Trial

After the verdict, the jurors spoke candidly about the case. They found Photoglou to lack credibility and to be very evasive while testifying. Photoglou’s giving nude photos taken from Rossi to Internet outlets particularly offended the jury.

During the punitive damage phase of the trial, which is designed to determine the wrongdoers net worth (to determine amount of punitive damages), Photoglou’s June 28, 2012 Bankruptcy Filing took center stage, according to the transcripts. Notable was the $334,000 owed to the IRS and other Governmental Entities. The total debts listed in the Bankruptcy filings (used to limit the amount of punitive damages) amounted to $902,299.80, according to the trial exhibit. The total assets listed were $25,256. Of note is the fact that Photoglou claimed he had $23,250 of photos of Rossi (this amount listed as exempt from creditors and also the amount the jury found in punitive damages against Photoglou, according to the jury verdict). On the stand, Photoglou claimed he had nothing, according to trial transcripts. His homes, boat, vehicles were all gone, according to his testimony.

The Jury, however, did not believe this testimony, noting his very expensive suits worn to trial, Bruno Magli shoes, and apparent extravagant lifestyle.

Photoglou sued Rossi for defamation. However, the jury found against him on all of his claims, according to the jury verdict. The trial evidence showed his testimony to be false and/or contradictory numerous times.

Restraining Order Phase of Trial

On Monday November 19, 2012, the Court held a hearing on Rossi's request for a permanent Restraining Order (pursuant to her claim for Stalking under California Civil Code Section 1708.7). As shown by court documents, Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee issued a three-year Injunction against Photoglou.

According to the restraining order, for a period of three years, Photoglou is ordered:

1.    No contact with Rossi;
2.    To stay away from Rossi (100’); and
3.    Not to contact any business with which Rossi works, with which she is contracted to work , or any business with which Rossi is in negotiations.

Following the hearing, Brown stated, “Now, with the Restraining Order in place, Ms. Rossi can live with peace of mind. Hopefully, everyone can now move on with their lives.”

Rossi, who was out of the country filming during the hearing, stated in a phone call that she was “pleased that the Judge recognized the danger Photoglou posed. Hopefully, the Judge’s order and the jury’s verdict will keep Photoglou from doing this to another woman - - ever!”

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Gina Michel
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