Jury says Portsmouth vice-mayor defamed fired city auditor, must pay $775k

Posted at 7:04 PM, Nov 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 20:33:17-05

NORFOLK, Va. - This week, a Norfolk jury ruled Portsmouth Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Psimas damaged the good reputation of former City Auditor Jesse Andre Thomas - to the tune of $775,000 in damages.

The verdict came down in a Norfolk courtroom this week in a defamation lawsuit regarding comments Psimas made to television and newspaper media about the job performance of the city auditor. In an exclusive interview Wednesday, Thomas says he feels vindicated.

News 3 reached out to Psimas for a reaction to the verdict.

Former city auditor Jesse Andre Thomas

"When I am asked by the news media about a public matter, I almost never decline to comment," Psimas said. "However, after getting your call, I reached out to my lawyers who have advised me that it would be inappropriate to discuss this matter publicly because it has not yet been concluded.  The court has taken motions made by my lawyers under advisement and the judge will be receiving briefs on those motions."

As for Thomas, this is the day he had prayed for.  During the turmoil of the public discourse, the firing and the preparation of the trial, his mother died last year.

He talked about having the love and support of his family and his faith.

"I felt I had to fight... It's up to me to fight for my family. I have a wife, I have kids who will be able to go online who will look at this story when they get older," Thomas said.

In court records, Thomas' attorney, Christian Connell, cited an interview with a local TV reporter where Psimas suggested that Thomas hadn't been doing his job since the day he was hired as the city auditor. There was also a reference to a letter to the local paper, citing 'disgust' with Thomas.

"She came out and disparaged him to the media when it was completely unnecessary. You shouldn't do it publicly in the first place, and if you are going to do it publicly, certainly tell the truth," Connell said.

Connell is also representing Thomas in another defamation lawsuit against Councilman Bill Moody for similar comments he made about the auditor. Thomas is seeking $1.5 million in that case, which is scheduled to go to trial in April.

The city attorney has declined to comment on who will be on the hook to payout the current verdict in the Psimas case if the verdict stands.

News 3 asked Mr. Thomas what went through his mind when the verdict was read following the four-day trial. He said: "I have a pastor, Kim Brown, and he said 'Your enemies will be your footstools.' He also mentioned this will be the year of the exposure. I feel like both of those things came true."