The Chicago Association of Realtors, Ginger Downs (the CEO of CAR) and agent Andrea Geller announced last night that on the eve of the trial date, the association’s defamation lawsuit against Geller in September 2012 has been discontinued.
In a letter that was sent out to association members, CAR President Hugh Laurie shared this joint statement from Geller, CAR and Downs:
“During the course of discovery in the legal action filed by the Association, the parties undertook extensive discovery and the Association provided extensive and detailed financial records for the Association and related entities. The review of these records demonstrated that there was no mismanagement, improprieties, or irregularities, and that any statement or implication to the contrary was not accurate. Due to this acknowledgment, the parties have agreed to discontinue the legal action.”
The discontinuation comes just one week before the lawsuit was set to go to trial, and after an extensive period of depositions and discovery; as we reported late last year, the trial date was March 16.
Geller also took to Twitter and Facebook to announce that she is a new member of the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors.
“Very excited to now be a member of @MainstreetOrg. Excited for the services they offer, like @DotLoop and @RealSatisfied #REALTORS,” she posted.
Lawsuit Stems Back to 2012
CAR’s lawsuit stretches back to Sept. 5, 2012, when it sued Geller for defamation and sought damages in excess of $50,000. CAR’s lawsuit stemmed from comments Geller made in response to an Aug. 20, 2012 Chicago Agent magazine story concerning the impeachment and removal of 2011-2012 association president Bob Floss. In an exclusive interview with Chicago Agent, Floss alleged he was removed from his position for political reasons, specifically that he requested financial scrutiny that the association was unwilling to provide.
On both Chicago Agent‘s story and the popular “Raise the Bar in Real Estate” Facebook page, Geller made several statements about the association and questioned not only its finances, but also the integrity of its management, including CEO Ginger Downs (who was named as a co-plaintiff in the association’s lawsuit).
Then, three weeks after our original story ran, CAR filed its lawsuit against Geller, alleging that she “knowingly or recklessly published a series of statements on the internet (sic) falsely claiming the existence of financial irregularities and dishonest actions by Chicago Association of Realtors® and Virginia Downs.”
“Geller’s libelous postings constitute defamation per se,” the complaint stated, which can be read in full here (Geller’s comments on both the Chicago Agent website and “Raise the Bar” are quoted beginning on page seven).
“Vigorously” Fighting the Lawsuit
In a 2012 interview with Chicago Agent, Geller’s attorney, Donald Battaglia of Battaglia Law, vowed that Geller would “vigorously” fight CAR’s lawsuit. Though Battaglia’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied, Battaglia said that he and Geller would use the lawsuit as a platform to truly dissect CAR’s finances, and that through discovery, they would analyze the very documents initially requested by Floss.
Then, in a late 2014 interview, Battaglia reiterated that focus, saying that because CAR’s lawsuit alleged that Geller’s statements were defamatory, the burden of proof was on the plaintiff: it would be CAR’s job, Battaglia said, to prove to the jury that its finances were in fact sound, and Geller’s comments were therefore defamatory; by contrast, for Battaglia and Geller, it will be their job in their defense to prove her allegations that the association’s finances are not sound, and thus her comments were accurate.
“Truth is the absolute defense in a defamation suit,” Battaglia said.
“She Needed to Get Closure”
However, when it came down to it, the financial and psychological effects of the trial began to take their toll on Geller, Battaglia said in a new interview regarding the discontinuation.
“She needed to get closure,” said Battaglia, who could not comment on the specifics of the discontinuation. “Unless you’ve been on the end of a lawsuit, it’s hard to know the toll it takes. Fighting the good fight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
In addition to the trial’s financial toll, Battaglia clarified that in the end, Geller stood to receive no financial benefit if she won the trial; given that there was no countersuit, a successful defense would have essentially returned Geller to square one.
“There was nothing to gain for Andrea,” Battaglia said. “If you can avoid a trial, it’s better for everyone.”
In the end, Battaglia said, the key is that Geller “never backed down” from the suit, and that she stuck to her principles to the end.
“For me, she’s a hero,” he said.