TAMPA — Lawyers Bill Winters and Marc Yonker, whose faces grace Tampa Bay area telephone book covers and billboards, should pay their former boss $1.8-million for taking his clients, a Hillsborough judge ruled Friday.
Richard Mulholland accused his two former employees of taking his most lucrative cases when they left his firm in 2001. A secretary admitted at trial that she hacked into Mulholland's computer network to change client information on behalf of the men.
Last week, a jury found that Winters and Yonker had committed civil theft.
On Monday, Winters' and Yonker's defense attorneys argued for a new trial or reduced damages. They said that Mulholland's attorney, David Maney, made improper references during the trial to "criminal" behavior.
In his order Friday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen found that Maney's remarks had contributed to what the judge determined to be an excessive verdict.
But he didn't dismiss either defendant's liability.
"The jury and this court have concluded that a wrong was committed in this case," Nielsen wrote.
The state's civil theft statute called for the jury damages to be tripled. With an original verdict of nearly $1-million between the two men, Winters and Yonker could have owed Mulholland $3-million.
But the judge reduced the original jury finding against Winters before tripling both men's damages. Under the final judgment, Yonker owes $567,394 and Winters owes $1.1-million, plus $122,500 in attorneys fees and $8,000 in costs.
The judgment left Mulholland satisfied, and a defense attorney vowing that Winters and Yonker will appeal.
"I think the judge's rulings were fair," Mulholland said. "From the very beginning, it hasn't really been a matter of money but one of principle."
Winters' attorney could not be reached Friday. Yonker's attorney, Tim Prugh, said he had expected to get a new trial because there was no proof of criminal intent in the case.
Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.