Jury awards $5.7 million to Irvine PTA mom in drug-planting case

A jury on Friday awarded $5.7 million to a former PTA president framed by an Irvine couple, apparently enraged by a schoolyard comment, who planted drugs in her car.

The Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for less than hour before finding that Kent Easter and his ex-wife, Jill Easter, acted with malice, oppression or fraud when they planted bags of marijuana, Vicodin and Percocet in Kelli Peters’ car in February 2011.

The jury awarded $2.1 million in compensatory damages to Peters and her family. In addition, Kent Easter is required to pay $1.5 million in punitive damages, while Jill Easter, who now goes by the name Ava Everheart, must pay $2.1 million.

Wiping away tears, Peters said the verdict brought closure to years of emotional turmoil.

“This was really not about money, this was about standing up to people that pick on other people and telling them it’s not OK to do this,” Peters said. “I feel like justice has been served.”

The conflict began over a school dispute over the Easters then-7-year-old son.

Peters, a former PTA president and volunteer at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, had her first run-in with Jill Easter on Feb. 16, 2010. Easter was upset that her son wasn’t in front of the school when she came to pick him up.

Peters testified that she told Jill Easter that her son may have been “slow to line up,” a comment Easter apparently mistook as an insult against her son’s intelligence.

The conflict escalated as Jill Easter tried to have Peters dismissed from her school volunteer job and claimed that Peters was stalking her and her son.

A year after the initial confrontation, Kent Easter called police, using a false name and speaking in an Indian accent, saying Peters had been driving erratically in the school parking lot, authorities said.

Officers searched Peters’ car and found bags of marijuana and pills that were later determined to have been planted by the Easters – both former attorneys who attended prestigious law schools.

Peters was detained and questioned by police for about two hours at the school, causing extreme emotional pain and humiliation, she testified during the three-day trial.

“I was crying and begging for him to not put the drugs on the car, because people would see it,” Peters said, recalling that her daughter was watching. “Everybody was looking at me and I felt very humiliated.”

Kent Easter, a Stanford-educated attorney who once worked at one of the county’s top law firms, was convicted of felony false imprisonment in 2014 and spent 87 days in jail. Jill Easter pleaded guilty to the same charge and spent about 60 days behind bars.

Kent Easter, who represented himself in the civil trial, declined comment. Jill Easter, who also represented herself, was not present in court for the verdict. Kent Easter’s law license has been suspended, while Jill Easter was disbarred

Kent Easter claimed innocence throughout his criminal trial and a recent deposition. He acknowledged during his testimony on Thursday that he was “backpedaling,” saying he also planned to drop an ongoing appeal of his criminal conviction.

“You planted drugs in Kelli Peters’ car and tried to get her arrested?” asked Rob Marcereau, Peters’ attorney.

“Very stupidly, and unfortunately, yes,” Kent Easter replied.

Kent Easter, however, contended that Peters was “exaggerating and embellishing” the amount of harassment she suffered – to gain a financial reward.

“The fact that something really bad was done to a person does not give them a winning Powerball number,” he told the jury.

Marcereau, after the verdict, said jurors saw through the Easters’ “lack of remorse.”

“These people thought they were above the law and the jury acted accordingly,” he said.

Though Kent Easter declared bankruptcy about a week before the trial, Marcereau said the debts from the awards for emotional distress, false imprisonment and punitive damages are not dischargable in bankruptcy.

Peters said the Easters have never shown remorse for their actions.

“I think saying sorry goes a long way; it would have gone a long way with me in the beginning,” Peters said. “I wouldn’t have gone this far had they said they were sorry.”

Contact the writer: kpuente@ocregister.com, 714-834-3773

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