A Webster County jury unanimously awarded a court clerk $1 million Tuesday in a case against Texas County Prosecutor Mike Anderson, who she said maliciously targeted her after a 2005 incident.
Mildred S. Williams, an associate circuit court clerk, won the damages after jurors deliberated about four hours before announcing their decision from the courthouse in Marshfield. After a week of testimony, the 12-member panel awarded $500,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages after finding Anderson liable for malicious prosecution. Jurors, hearing the case on a change of venue from Texas County, found for Anderson on an abuse of process claim.
Williams embraced her attorneys, led by David Steelman of Rolla, as jurors exited the second-story courtroom after hearing claims of impropriety by Anderson, who was first elected Texas County prosecutor in 2002 and who ran unopposed last year.
Williams was too emotional to speak after the verdict but Steelman said they were very happy with the jury’s decision.
“I’ve always believed that you let juries make these decisions. They put a lot of work into it, and I’m just grateful for their time,” he said. “Millie feels that it clears her name, and people in Texas County will know who was right and who’s wrong.”
Anderson’s attorney, Warren Harris, said they have 30 days from the date the judgment is entered to file an appeal.
“Obviously the verdict is higher than we thought it would be,” said Harris. “We’ll have to consider our options on appeal and see what’s available. I think there’s potential of some error in the case, and we’ll have to see what we do about that.”
Juror Charles Weaver of Niangua, said he believed justice was served. But the jurors were not in total agreement at first, he said.
“It was a very hard decision. We discussed all the facts… and debated… weighed it all and finally figured out what we should do,” said Weaver.
“It’s a case of bullying, I think…a big man over a little person and she’s been harmed. You could tell that.”
Judge Don M. Henry and both attorneys commended the Webster County jury as the most attentive they have ever worked with. The trial was one of the longest, most unique and fascinating court cases in this area and probably the state, they said.
After closing arguments led by Steelman and Harris of Springfield, jurors took the case at 11:42 a.m. and returned to the courtroom at 3:30 p.m. A juror leaving the courthouse on the town square said most of the panel’s deliberations centered on how much to award Williams, who filed the suit in July 2009 after alleging she was targeted by Anderson after witnessing the harassment of a then co-worker, Monica Daniels Hutchison. She was a former office administrator for the prosecutor before leaving in late 2005 after her boss arrived impaired in the wee hours of the night at her home at Licking, according to testimony at the trial, which was overseen by Associate Circuit Judge Henry of Howell County.
About six months after the middle of the night incident at Licking, Anderson filed a lawsuit against Williams and Hutchison charging they were conspiring against him, running a sex ring and aiding others in special favors from their offices. About 40 days later, Anderson dropped it.
The story line that played out over seven days brought plots unheard before: Allegations of missing documents related to a fatality, the role of state officers in the case that began in December 2005, tensions among employees and the prosecutor charged with carrying out the judicial system in Texas County and conflicting testimony about Williams’ leadership role in the county’s drug court.
Hutchison later sued Anderson in federal court, and that case was settled earlier this year and sealed from the public’s view.
Williams took the stand Friday and at times became emotional as she testified of incidents that she said defamed her and caused her emotional pain followed by costs she incurred to defend herself.
“(The lawsuit) will follow me forever wherever I go,” said Williams, who works at the Texas County Justice Center. “When people realize who I am — the sex ring woman. I sign everything… They can pretty much figure it out.”
Williams testified under oath that the saga began in the wee hours of Sunday morning Dec. 18, 2005, when Williams spent the night with Hutchison, a worker in Anderson’s office, after they had been out with friends. Williams explained she had stayed there because she had been drinking and did not want to drive.
Anderson called Hutchison from his cell phone on the way to and from the driveway of her home in Licking. The women let the answering machine pick up.
He then banged on the door and wiggled the knobs, opening the screen on one door while cursing and yelling, Williams testified. “He called (Hutchison) a f-ing bitch,” she testified.
He called several more times, leaving obscene messages, she said, adding he did not know she was there. The exchange was never played in court.
Williams said she later learned more about the night that she said left her frightened.
“He was drunk and said he was driving around with (Sgt.) Jeff (Kinder of Missouri State Highway Patrol) and drinking a fifth of Crown,” Williams said.
Anderson said that by Monday morning when he came to work it was the “talk of the courthouse.”
“They said that Monica and Millie were telling that I showed up at Monica’s house,” Anderson testified. “I didn’t know Millie was there ’til then.”
He called Williams and Melinda Hudson, associate court clerk who worked in the same office, into a private room.
“Millie started crying … she said I scared them at Monica’s house,” he said. “None of it made sense that I’d get so drunk that I’d threaten to hurt people. It made me feel terrible.”
Hudson testified, “He was yelling at us and stepped toward Millie and said, ‘As far as you’re concerned, you’re dead to me.’ “
Marci Mosley, a then clerk and now circuit clerk, was in the outer office and heard Anderson yelling.
“When he came out, he slammed his fist down on a file cabinet and said (to Williams), ‘You’d better not be talking about me, woman,'” Mosley testified.
On the stand, Williams testified that Anderson did not at any time threaten to kill her and
Hutchison if they didn’t have sex with him — a story that has been rumored around town, she said.
When Hutchison would not hand over the answering machine tape, a search warrant obtained by Anderson from then Associate Circuit Judge Brad Ellsworth was served on her. On Dec. 23, she handed over the tape and quit her job.
About six months later, Anderson filed his lawsuit.
“After (his) suit was dropped, he kept doing things … he wouldn’t stop …it made it hard at work,” Williams said, adding she was worried about it being on record and what affect it would have on her now 16-year-old son.
“I tried to keep it from him but finally had to sit him down and explain to him,” Williams said. “I told him, no matter what people say, he had to stay cool…,” she said through tears.
Mosley and Hudson testified they had never heard Williams say a disparaging remark about Anderson, and they have no knowledge of a sex ring.
Mosley testified she had never witnessed Williams initiate conflict, but she has seen Anderson initiate hostilities.
Both women testified they had noticed changes in Williams’ appearance and demeanor since Anderson’s lawsuit was filed.
They both described a pattern of behavior by Anderson they observed. Hudson recalled that Anderson would come into the office and glare at Millie and make smirking faces.
Mosley testified that once Anderson sat down by her desk, took out his cell phone, aimed it at Williams and took a photo. “It made a chimpanzee or monkey sound,” she said.
Judge Doug Gaston testified that Williams is “a great worker, does good on the job… has a few issues handling things emotionally.”
Earlier in the week, testimony was heard from law enforcement officers – Kinder and Tpr. Terry Nelson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Lt. Melissa Dunn of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department – and other Texas County elected officials and employees. Dunn said her department never was asked to initiate an investigation other than Anderson reporting he believed he had been drugged in December 2005.
Dunn’s boss, Texas County Sheriff Carl Watson, called by defense attorney Harris, said Anderson is one of the better prosecutors he’s ever worked with.
Regarding the prosecutor’s lawsuit against the women, Watson said he knew charges of a swinger sex ring being orchestrated out of the courthouse were not true.
“If I thought someone was running a sex ring out of any office, my job is to stop it,” he said. “Anybody in any of those offices knew these allegations are not true… that’s why there was no investigation. I took Judge (Brad) Ellsworth’s word to not get involved with the case.”
Christina Mosley, a legal assistant in Anderson’s office, said she had observed Hutchison engaged in illegal activities but not Williams.
“After Anderson’s lawsuit against Monica and Millie, a lot of people said bad things about Monica but not about Millie,” said Mosley. “People asked if the sex ring was true about Monica – not Millie – and we got many phone calls asking about Monica… why she quit or was fired.”
Mosley said she began to advise Anderson before Hutchison quit regarding “things” going on in the office. For example, Mosley said she witnessed Hutchison destroying reports and fixing tickets for friends.
“One case she shredded was about the death of a man in an auto accident that was being chased by police,” said Mosley, who said her desk was alongside Hutchison’s.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol investigated the fatal crash in March 2005.
“I took a call from Danny McNew (then Licking police chief). I gave the phone to Monica who said she, ‘Would take care of it,’ ” Mosley said. “(Hutchison) got right up and grabbed a report out of her basket and went to the shredder and shredded that report.”
Mosley also said Hutchison told her, as she deleted documents from her computer, that she “would not leave a trail” – of which Mosley also advised Anderson.
She asked Anderson for a recorder so she could tape Hutchison’s conversation so Anderson could hear what was being said about him.