Jury exonerates Vail property manager in defamation suit
Dale Bugby wins defamation case and damages
EAGLE — A Vail Valley property manager was wrongly accused, and the people who falsely accused him lost a defamation case.
After a two-week trial, a jury awarded Dale Bugby $150,000 — $50,000 each from the three people named in the defamation lawsuit: Barry Coleman; his wife, Jan Coleman; and Brian Wilson, a board member with the Sun Vail Homeowners Association.
The case stemmed from letters by the Colemans and Wilson that accused Bugby of bank fraud and criminal fraud, theft and embezzlement while working with the Sun Vail Homeowners Association.
Bugby and his attorney, Jay Reinan, denied the accusations and sued the Colemans and Wilson.
The accusations started in 2015. Bugby and Reinan filed their lawsuit in March 2017. The case took two years to come to trial. After the 10-day trial, the jury deliberated about four hours.
Bugby thanked the jurors for “sitting through 10 days of tedious testimony that wasn’t their battle.”
“We couldn’t resolve these personal and business attacks that started in 2015 any other way,” Bugby said in a written statement. “We are finally exonerated and happy that this is over. The jurors were able to see the truth of the matter.”
The jury began deliberations late Friday afternoon and came back with a verdict a little after 10 p.m. Monday.
“The jury found that the statements the defendants made were false and that they knew they were false and they acted with actual malice,” Reinan said.
Audit found nothing
Bugby had managed the Sun Vail property for 11 years. Coleman asserted that Bugby had been stealing money the entire time, Reinan said.
Prior to the case going to trial, Sun Vail’s 2015 financial records were audited. That audit found “no significant inconsistencies, nothing that pointed to a major discrepancy,” one juror said. “He was charging the fees he said he was charging.”
Bugby and Reinan asked for $2.8 million. The jury awarded $150,000.
Beyond reasonable doubt
The same standard applies to bringing a lawsuit for defamation in civil court as a criminal case — Bugby and Reinan had to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, not just the 51 percent standard of certainty in a civil suit.
“We had to show that the defendants were out to get Dale, and we had to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s something like 99 percent certainty,” Reinan said.
To do that, Reinan and Bugby had to prove that Coleman’s statements were false and that Coleman knew they were false, Reinan said.
The jury saw things Bugby’s way.
“The message the jury was sending was to stop doing this. It’s not right,” Reinan said. “He has been very upset over this in a small town.”
Steve Baitty, the Colemans’ attorney, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The proposed deal would be a three-way agreement between the town, the developer and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.