The devil you say? Not in my court, judge rules

The Salt Lake Tribune/June 20, 2008

A federal judge today refused to order a new trial on a hellish lie about household-products giant Procter & Gamble that was spread by Amway distributors.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart also denied a motion to investigate claims that jurors improperly used outside information in finding that the distributors owed $19,250,000 to P&G for disseminating a false rumor that the company supported a Satanic church.

In addition, the judge ruled there was ample evidence for the jury to find that the falsehood affected sales of the targeted P&G products.

However, the distributors won a major point. Stewart declined to triple the award to $57.75 million, as allowed by law, saying that the jury verdict "adequately compensated" P&G.

The Cincinnati-based P&G filed suit in 1995 accusing a high-ranking Amway dealer in Ogden and three other distributors of damaging its sales with the devil worship talk. After a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, a jury made the multimillion-dollar award in March 2007.

The defendants filed a motion the next month alleging that jurors reached the figure by using information not introduced at trial - instead basing the damages on their own estimates of how much P&G spent on attorney fees. They also disputed that the evidence supported the amount of damages.

In requesting an inquiry into the matter and a new trial, the distributors submitted statements from several jurors about the deliberations.

In today's ruling, Stewart said the juror statements allege only that several members of the panel talked about their own experiences with legal fees. The discussion did not violate court rules because those matters "fall within the general knowledge or opinion that every juror carries into the jury room by reason of life experiences," he said.

Since the late 1970s, P&G has been dogged by rumors that its president appeared on a talk show and announced the company's affiliation with the Church of Satan. In addition, rumors have circulated for years that the P&G "man on the moon" logo includes Satanic imagery.

The company has fought back with lawsuits. The Utah legal action stemmed from a message sent through the Amway voice-mail system in April 1995 repeating the fake story, an action that P&G claimed cost it millions of dollars in sales.

According to court records, Utahn Randy Haugen placed a message in April 1995 that repeated the Satanic rumor and added his approval by saying, "This is a great message." The message specifically identified 43 P&G products by name and urged listeners to buy Amway products instead.

The other three defendants - Steven E. Brady, Stephen L. Bybee and Ted Randal Walker - acknowledged forwarding the message. The four said they merely repeated a rumor they believed at the time to be true but now acknowledge was false.

They also argued the message was not disseminated far enough to cause the claimed damages. But Stewart said there is evidence that the information was spread throughout Haugen's marketing network of 60,000 people, 10,000 of whom were part of the voice-mail system, and then spread through two other distributor networks and into many states.

Amway Corp. was dismissed as a defendant before the trial. The four defendants were not employees of Amway but independent business owners.

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