A weary Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that publisher Jane Daniel does not have to pay Misha Defonseca $22.5 million for bungling a book deal for Defonseca's story of being raised by wolves and killing a Nazi soldier after her Jewish parents were taken away from her and murdered during World War II.
However, Daniel still has to pay Vera Lee - her neighbor and BC professor, brought in as a translator and ghost writer - nearly $10 million for attempting to screw her out of profits from European sales of the book.
Defonseca and Lee won their original verdict before the truth came out.
After that verdict - which the appeals court upheld in 2005 - Daniel followed a paper trial that started with a simple bank statement and ended with Catholic baptismal records in Etterbeek, Belgium, which helped prove Defonseca was Catholic, not Jewish, and was not a wandering child protected by wolves.
Daniel used the information to appeal and the court agreed to vacate the its first decision related to Defonseca.
Defonseca then appealed that ruling, arguing the original ruling had nothing to do with the veracity of her story and everything to do with standard publishing contracts, and that, in any case, she really did believe her story at the time.
In its ruling today, the court said that even though Daniel "engaged in many highly improper representations and activities," the original jury in the case would not have come to the conclusion it did, had it known the story was a fantasy.
[W]hether Defonseca's belief was reasonable or not, the introduction in evidence of the actual facts of her history at the trial underlying Mt. Ivy I could have made a significant difference in the jury's deliberations.
At the same time, the court said that Daniel remains on the hook for nearly $10 million to her former neighbor and BC professor, Vera Lee, whom she brought in to serve as a translator and ghost writer for Defonseca, who spoke only French, and whom she sought to remove from credits and royalties for European versions of the story.
This case has had a legal life of over fifteen years. All involved have been bloodied. Defonseca's story has been shown to be false. As for Daniel, she also has been shown to have acted highly inappropriately, as evidenced by the still valid multi-million dollar judgment against her in favor of Vera Lee, the one least blameworthy person in the entire affair. Hopefully the saga has now come to an end.
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