SANTA ANA, Calif. – An Orange County couple was ordered to pay $5.7 million for planting drugs in the car of a former PTA president in a failed bid to have her arrested.
A jury on Friday made the award to Kelli Peters. The Superior Court panel deliberated less than an hour before finding that Kent Easter of Irvine and his ex-wife, Jill Easter, acted with malice, oppression or fraud, the Orange County Register reported (http://bit.ly/1Rd9pjw ).
Kent Easter declared bankruptcy before the civil trial but such protection doesn't extend to the lawsuit damages, said Rob Marcereau, Peters' attorney.
Authorities said the Easters had an ongoing feud with Peters that started with a comment she made about their 7-year-old son when they planted prescription painkillers, marijuana and a pot pipe in Peters' car in 2011. They then called police, who briefly detained her at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, where she volunteered.
Peters testified that she was humiliated as a police officer searched the car as her own daughter watched.
"I was crying and begging for him to not put the drugs on the car, because people would see it," Peters said. "Everybody was looking at me."
She was questioned for about two hours.
Kent Easter, representing himself during the case, argued that Peters was exaggerating her distress in order to reap a financial reward.
"The fact that something really bad was done to a person does not give them a winning Powerball number," he told the jury.
Easter declined comment after the verdict and Jill Easter, who also represented herself, was not present in court for the verdict, the Register said.
Peters said the Easters have never shown remorse for their action.
"This was really not about money, this was about standing up to people that pick on other people and telling them it's not OK to do this," she said, wiping away tears. "I wouldn't have gone this far had they said they were sorry," Peters said.
In 2014, Kent Easter was convicted of felony false imprisonment. He spent 87 days in jail. Jill Easter pleaded guilty to the same charge and spent about 60 days behind bars.