VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — She was accused of having sex with her gym trainer in a bathroom before he had heart surgery.
It turned out not to be true, but the damage was done to a former Virginia Beach City Council candidate who lost her election three days after that rumor appeared on a Facebook page.
A jury recently ordered Virginia Beach political activist Jim Cohen to pay Dee Oliver, the former candidate, $5 million because he defamed her.
Oliver knew she was right, that Cohen based his claims on what she calls lies from an estranged stepdaughter, that Cohen never called Oliver to confirm the truth. She says Cohen himself had good reason to believe what he was posting wasn’t true. It should also be noted, Oliver says Cohen encouraged her to run for public office for about five years.
On April 1, the jury decided Cohen showed a reckless disregard of the truth that led to Oliver’s political defeat.
Last Saturday, 10 On Your Side found Jim Cohen campaigning to be chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach — which he lost.
We asked several questions — including, do you regret what happened? Were you surprised with the $5 million dollar award? — Cohen answered all with, “No Comment.”
Oliver did sit down to speak with 10 On Your Side.
“He set out to destroy me and he succeeded,” Oliver said.
Oliver remembers Nov. 4, 2018 — right before the City Council election which she would end up losing — and the time when her life would come to a screeching halt.
“It was horrific. Absolutely horrific,” she said.
Cohen posted on the Facebook page Vintage North End Virginia Beach: “Not sure if this was before or after screwing a trainer at Wareings who had to get heart surgery, shedevil decides to show the family who is boss by having sex with him in the hospital bathroom for his entire family to hear outside.”
“She-devil” is a reference to Oliver,
“Jim Cohen decides in the period of 30 minutes he is going to destroy my name, my married name, and my reputation in a matter of minutes,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s attorney Jerimiah Denton is no stranger to defamation cases.
“If you make a harmful statement in reckless disregard of truth, then you are liable. Now, it has to be clear and convincing evidence and not just a preponderance,” Denton said.
Denton points out Cohen’s source of that untrue story was Oliver’s estranged stepdaughter who was biased against Oliver and was the subject of a protective order.
“Cohen had said he assumed it was true because the girl is a member of the family, yet he knew how alienated from the family she was, and she had sliced up a sofa of theirs,” said Denton.
“The reasons he relied on her as a source was ridiculous, but he called her a close family member, but she was not a close family member to any of us,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s new husband disavows his daughter, and what has happened has been disruptive to the family.
A crucial point for the jurors: Cohen, before posting the statement, never called Oliver to confirm the truth.
Here are more questions we asked Cohen to which he said “No comment” in response.
- Her attorney said for a jury to give her $5 million, what you did must really have been wrong — what is your response?
- Do you think the jury got it wrong?
- Do you wish none of this happened?
- Do you apologize to Dee Oliver?
- Do you wish you had not posted anything?
- Do you regret anything that happened?
The only question Jim Cohen would answer was about whether he planned to appeal. Even with that question, he started to say no comment, but then came back with a strong, “Yes, I do.”
The case is a reminder that public figures do have protection from defaming comments.
We asked Oliver if she was surprised by the size of the $5 million award.
“I was shocked. I was not expecting that. I thought my legs were going to buckle completely, but we were thrilled because it makes a huge statement on how serious this was,” Oliver said.