Judge slashes Charlottesville penalties by 90%, from $26M awarded by jury to $2.35M


(JTA) — The judge in the civil case brought against the organizers of the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of a protester has slashed the penalties awarded to the victims.

Victims in the case, brought by two Jewish attorneys who have made it their mission to hit neo-Nazis in their bank accounts, are entitled to $2.35 million, not the $26 million that a jury awarded, Judge Norman Moon ruled Tuesday.

Moon’s ruling was expected because he hewed to a Virginia law that caps punitive damages at $350,000, The Washington Post reported. The jury in the case, which wrapped up in November 2021, had awarded $24 million in punitive damages.

Moon left in place $2 million in compensatory damages meant to replace lost wages and other expenses associated with being a victim, bringing the total owed the victims to $2.35 million.

The defendants in the case, five members of extreme right groups that organized the march, have said that they that they were broke and would not be able to pay anything. The plaintiffs included the mother of Heather Heyer, a counter-protester who was murdered, and others who were injured or otherwise affected by the attacks.

Integrity First for America, a non-profit whose CEO is Amy Spitalnick, recruited plaintiffs and lawyers for the lawsuit. In a 2020 essay for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Spitalnick said the goal of the lawsuit was to hold far-right organizers “accountable in court for the violence they orchestrated, with the potential to bankrupt and dismantle them through large civil judgments.”

More recently, Integrity First for America has documented how the lawsuit has bankrupted or crippled financially some of the defendants and has inhibited the growth of some of the extremist groups.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have argued that the size of the original penalties could inhibit violence from the far right, even if the plaintiffs, in this case, cannot obtain the total amount. The two principal lawyers, Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said in a statement that they are considering an appeal of Moon’s decision to abide by the $350,000 cap.

“Judge Moon’s lengthy opinion reviewing the mountain of evidence we introduced at trial and affirming the jury verdicts on the culpability of each and every defendant confirms what really happened — motivated by the tenets of white supremacy, defendants engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to commit violence in Charlottesville in August 2017,” said the statement sent to JTA. “Such behavior, which has only increased in intensity since then, presents a clear and present danger to the health of our democracy. We are carefully considering an appeal to the Fourth Circuit regarding the impact of the Virginia statutory cap on punitive damages in this case.”