Three schoolgirls who falsely accused a California physical education teacher of being a "perv" who touched them inappropriately now owe the man nearly $400,000 in a defamation judgement, and one of the young girls — an eleven-year-old described as the "ringleader" — is also on the hook for punitive damages.
Forty-nine-year-old John Fischler filed a defamation suit after he was falsely accused of touching the young girls and peeking in their bathroom. Fischler was cleared of the charges by school officials and police, but declined to return to work due to a "poisonous atmosphere."
Opponents of the case said that awarding damages to Fischler would have a chilling effect on children voluntarily reporting abuse in the future. But the jury disagreed, awarding Fischler $362,653 in compensatory damages, and finding that the eleven-year-old acted with malice, making her and her family liable for punitive damages.
The jury will begin determining those punitive damages on Monday.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the jury appeared to come down harder on the ringleader due to her "demeanor in court."
The demeanor of the "ringleader," now 14, appeared to have alienated the jury. She giggled often while testifying, and twice got off the witness stand, stood in front of the jury box and demonstrated a dance move and chant a school cheer. The jurors sat grim-faced without smiling.
In contrast, Fischler and his lawyer Robert Vantress were childhood friends, and Vantress argued the teacher's case with nearly humorless passion.