A Superior Court Judge has thrown out a jury verdict against a high-profile Triangle tech executive but at the same time has doubled the damages awarded another executive in the case.
Judge Ben Tennille of the Greensboro-based North Carolina Business Court overturned a Wake County jury’s award of nearly $1.6 million to Jill Maurer, former chief executive officer of SlickEdit. The jury had found against Andre Boisvert, a former executive at SAS who had joined SlickEdit as a consultant and now serves as the firm’s non-executive chairman. Maurer had sued Boisvert, the company and its other directors, charging fraud, following her dismissal as CEO in 2004.
However, Tennille ruled that Jill Maurer, who co-founded the software company along with ex-husband Clark Maurer, is due damages for unpaid salary and bonuses. Tennille also ordered the amount of money Maurer will receive is to be doubled, but just how much she should receive remains unclear to Maurer’s legal team.
“This was a sort of split-the-baby ruling,” said Mark Ash of the law firm Smith Anderson Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan that represented Jill Maurer in the case.
“We are disappointed that the judge reversed the jury verdict, but we are pleased that he has ruled for her” in the matter of the wages and bonus.
Asked if Tennille’s overturning of the jury verdict would be appealed, Ash said, “It’s likely we will.” An appeal would be heard by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Ash added.
While Tennille did not specify an amount due Maurer, “Potentially, we are talking $1 to $2 million,” Ash explained. He also said Maurer will have an opportunity to recover some of her attorney’s fees.
SlickEdit issued a press release on Monday announcing Tennille’s ruling in favor of Boisvert, a former president and chief operating officer at SAS. However, the company did not mention the ruling in favor of Jill Maurer.
“It’s not a victory for Andre, and it’s not a victory for the company,” Ash said, noting SlickEdit “owes her a lot of money.”
Press Miller, of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, which represented SlickEdit and Boisvert, said the defendants “are certainly gratified by the Business Court’s granting the judgment in Andre’s favor.”
Miller noted that the decision regarding Jill Maurer’s salary and bonus “stands for now” but added “The company is considering its options.”
Tennille did rule against Boisvert’s request for a new trial.
In the press release, Clark Maurer hailed the judge’s decision regarding Boisvert.
“I am pleased with the outcome of the case because it will allow all of us at SlickEdit to concentrate on our primary mission of providing high-performance tools with innovative features that increase software-developer productivity,” he said. “The company has benefited from its association with Andre and we look forward to his continued involvement and leadership.”
Jill Maurer’s sue alleged breach of fiduciary duty, unfair and deceptive trade practices, oppression, constructive fraud, fraud, civil conspiracy, unjust enrichment, rescission and reformation as well as slander.
In his ruling, Tennille wrote that the ongoing dispute threatened the existence of the company.
“The parties have been through two mediations and received repeated reminders from the Court that their inability to resolve their disputes in a businesslike manner threatened the long term viability of the company over which they were litigating,” he wrote.
“This case is the quintessential corporate domestic drama fanned by the flames of a bitter divorce, unbounded egos among the actors, and an abundance of deceit. It is at once a morality play, a lesson in the benefit of written contracts, and a classic example of the dangers of executive hubris.”
Jill Maurer helped Clark, a former IBM programmer, launch the company in Virginia in 1988. The Maurers moved to North Carolina in 1990, changed the name of the company from MicroEdge to SlickEdit and moved from Apex to Morrisville in October of 2001. SlickEdit’s consistent growth and adaptation to include more operating systems such as Linux won the company a place on the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 for four straight years.
For the complete text of Judge Tennille’s ruling, see: www.ncbusinesscourt.net/opinions/2006%20NCBC%201.htm