UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: It took a Palm Beach County jury just over two hours Tuesday to decide in favor of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office in a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who said she was fired because she had cancer.
The verdict comes nearly two weeks after the trial in Angela Miller’s case began, featuring testimony from current Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and three of his predecessors, along with several others in the legal community who worked with Miller during her 16-year stint at the office.
Attorneys for Aronberg’s office told jurors that all Aronberg did was exercise his right not to retain Miller when he took office, a decision that had already been in the making before Miller’s diagnosis in August 2012.
“We’re pleased with the jury’s verdict, and we feel justice has been served,” Aronberg said through spokesman Mike Edmondson after the verdict Tuesday.
Miller, a mother of two who tearfully told jurors on the witness stand that she was still undergoing chemotherapy when she learned she was being let go, said she was glad she pursued the case despite the outcome.
“It was critical for me to tell my story, because this is happening to someone else right now, as we’re talking, someone is being terminated right now because they’re sick. And it’s a story that has to be told,” Miller said.
Miller said she will be talking to her attorneys, Cathleen Scott and Lindsey Wagner, to decide whether she will appeal the case. Five months after she wasn’t retained at the state attorney’s office, Miller got a job at the Boca Raton commercial litigation firm Sachs, Sax and Caplan, where she remains today.
Defense attorney James Williams reminded jurors Tuesday that despite Aronberg’s decision not to keep Miller, he encouraged a partner the firm to hire her.
ORIGINAL POST: Four women and two men have now begun deciding whether Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg wrongfully terminated former Assistant State Attorney Angela Miller in 2012 because she had cancer.
Lawyers of both sides of Miller’s lawsuit against her former employers are now delivering their closing arguments, ending the trial that began earlier this month and featured testimony from top politicians, judges and lawyers in Palm Beach County’s legal community.
Miller’s attorney, Cathleen Scott, reminded jurors that all who testified during the trial characterized Miller as a great trial attorney. Miller, diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, found out in December that Aronberg would not be swearing her in as one of his assistants when he took office in January 2013.
Scott balked at suggestions from Aronberg’s testimony while on the witness stand last week comparing his takeover at the state attorney’s’ office to a coach taking over a sports team and making changes to the coaching staff.
“This isn’t football, this isn’t baseball. This is somebody’s life,” Scott said, later adding: “The law doesn’t allow it, and neither should you.”
Defense attorney James Williams’ position to jurors has been that Miller wasn’t asked to stay on with Aronberg in spite of her cancer diagnosis, not because of it.
He reiterated concerns Aronberg and others said they had about Miller’s actions outside of the courtroom, including allegations that she berated a juror in 2010 for voting to acquit a murder suspect and broke the law in the summer of 2012 when asked an investigator to search an FBI database for personal reasons.
Williams told jurors that they would have to believe 11 lawyers, a doctor and three law enforcement officers would have had to have participated in an orchestrated cover-up in order for jurors to believe Miller’s version of why she was let go.
Though Miller’s cancer diagnosis was tragic, Williams said, her anger with Aronberg and the state attorney’s office is misplaced.
“It can’t be, ‘I can do anything I want, and now because I’m sick, they can’t do anything to me. That’s not how the law works,” Williams said, adding later: “To do it that way would encourage a lot of bad behavior.”
The last arguments jurors heard Tuesday was from Scott, who had harsh criticism for Aronberg and accused him of being more concerned with placating “his defense attorney donor buddies” than with prosecuting criminal defendants.
Scott compared Miller to Brian Fernandes, a chief assistant state attorney under Aronberg who as a statewide prosecutor was responsible for handling gang cases and other violent crimes.
“He’s a tough prosecutor, just like Ms. Miller,” Scott said. “Let’s hope he doesn’t get sick.”
Circuit Judge Donald Hafele sent jurors sback to deliberate at noon.