A state appeals court has upheld a jury’s verdict against the wife of bankruptcy lawyer Peter Francis Geraci, saying she needs to pay $275,000 to a dog walker she accused of attacking her almost four years ago.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court ruled on an appeal from the Cook County Circuit Courtroom of Judge Patrick Sherlock in an unpublished order issued July 17. Justice Mary L. Mikva wrote the order; Justices Maureen E. Connors and John B. Simon concurred. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under very limited circumstances permitted by the Supreme Court rule.
Robin Di Buono, a dog walker who at the time worked for others who lived in the condo building in which Geraci and his wife, Holly, live, claimed Holly Geraci assaulted her in an elevator in the Union Square Condominiums building on Aug. 27, 2013. Geraci, however, claimed Di Buono was the one who attacked her.
After a three-day trial in July 2016, a jury sided with Di Buono, ordering the Geracis to pay her $275,000. Geraci filed a motion to have the verdict reversed or for a new trial. Sherlock denied that motion Oct. 24, leading to Geraci’s appeal the next day challenging the jury’s determinations, as well as the court’s denial of a petition for a new judge and dismissal of the other defendants — Lieberman Management Services, Inc., and the Union Square Condominium Association and its individual members — against whom she leveled accusations of breach of fiduciary duties by failing to enforce dog handling rules that would have prevented the confrontation.
In her appeal, Geraci said Di Buono failed to provide evidence Geraci intended to commit battery and said damages Di Buono cited as evidence all were based on events following the confrontation. But the panel said a finding of battery relies not on the intent of one party but the lack of consent to the contact on the other.
Di Buono testified that Geraci grabbed her from behind and shouted at her to leave the elevator, and that she felt Geraci’s hands and nails on her from the back — sufficient evidence of intent to harm. The judges also noted Di Buono testified about damages stemming from the incident itself, not just Geraci’s decision to file criminal charges. This included not being comfortable in the building and eventually losing the dog walking job to an acquaintance she hired to take her place.
In arguing for a new trial, Geraci cited a juror’s post-trial comment on Di Buono’s Google+ page. Mikva first noted Geraci’s motion did not quote the full post, and added a reference to the 1982 Illinois 2nd Appellate Court opinion in People v. Hobley establishing “a jury verdict may not be impeached by the testimony of the jurors,” even those showing how a jury reached a verdict.
Geraci also questioned the trial conduct of Di Buono’s lawyer, Tom Bilyk, but Mikva detailed how Sherlock, by sustaining relevant objections, managed the flow of the trial sufficient to ensure fairness to both parties. The panel also could not find fault on how Sherlock instructed jurors with respect to verdict forms and potential damage awards.
Mikva explained Sherlock was correct to dismiss the association defendants because they could not have breached a fiduciary duty to prevent a battery to Geraci since the jury found there was no battery against Geraci. That decision led Geraci to request a new judge, citing his reference to her other legal battles with the association.
However, Mikva wrote: “Most of what Mrs. Geraci paints as judicial bias is actually a critique of the quality of the claims she brought against the Association.”
On April 21, a jury in Chicago federal court found in favor of the condo association in a separate complaint brought by the Geracis, asserting Holly Geraci’s post-traumatic stress disorder, which she claimed was the result of a childhood dog attack, should mean federal disability law afforded her the right to ride alone in the building’s elevator to avoid sharing the space with her neighbors’ dogs.
The Geracis also once sued the association because it blocked them from repairing their rooftop deck at the top of the building, then refused the Geracis’ request to repay them for the damage allegedly caused by a contractor the association hired. That complaint was dismissed from Cook County court in 2015.