Originally created 06/29/02

Woman wins suit against Sears



A jury awarded an Augusta woman falsely accused of theft the maximum amount of punitive damages Friday - a quarter of a million dollars.

The Richmond County Superior Court jury deliberated nearly all day Friday before finding that Sears, Roebuck and Co. should pay Barbara Coping $250,000 in punitive damages and $7,500 in compensatory damages. The jury also found that the Augusta store's loss-prevention manager, Ronald B. Wisham, should pay Ms. Coping $7,500 in compensatory damages.

"It was a good verdict. I'm very happy for Barbara," said her attorney, J. Andrew Tisdale, who worked with attorney J. Randolph Frails to win the three-day trial.

Ms. Coping, who worked two jobs, one as a subcontractor for Sears in 1999, and had never had more than a traffic ticket in her 51 years, was arrested on a theft charge in 2000. After she was acquitted Nov. 1, Ms. Coping sued the store and Mr. Wisham, alleging malicious prosecution.

Her attorneys were able to convince the jury that the Sears staff and Mr. Wisham would have reached the same conclusion the criminal court jury did with a minimum of investigation.

Ms. Coping was accused of stealing $5,000 in draperies. She and the store's decorator explained at the trials that the delivery box that was supposed to contain that order actually contained different items, and the $5,000 drapery order had been canceled.

Ms. Coping was arrested at the site of her full-time job and taken to jail, where she stayed for four days before being released.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.



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