Country music star Garth Brooks prevailed on every issue Thursday in his $226,000 lawsuit against a former employee who said the money was a gift, not a loan.
The jury of four men and three women deliberated for one hour before telling U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger that Lisa Sanderson owed Brooks for the loan, as well as interest for the past half-dozen years, legal fees and collection costs.
Neither Brooks nor Sanderson showed any emotion at the announcement of the verdict. After a brief explanation of the verdict by the jury foreman, they and their lawyers left the courtroom quietly.
Sanderson was CEO of Red Strokes Entertainment Inc., Brooks' movie and television production company in California. The jury denied Sanderson's claim for retirement after Red Strokes closed in 2010 because there was no legal documentation proving that she was owed any compensation.
"After 18 years, (Sanderson) should have ensured that there was documentation on that, especially since she has a child," the jury foreman said.
The money at issue in the lawsuit was determined to be a loan because many emails and letters passed between Sanderson and members of Brooks' staff referred to the funds as a "loan."
"The money was handed over," the foreman said. "The documents call it a loan. That's just the way it works."
When asked by the judge if she had the money to repay the loan, Sanderson said "absolutely not."
The three-day trial concluded after the testimony from Sanderson, the only witness called for the defense, and a brief rebuttal by Brooks.
The attorneys for Brooks spoke of the entertainer's great generosity to Sanderson over the years, including a $19,000 plane charter he paid for to fly her to Memphis after her dad's heart attack, and three separate gifts of $10,000.
"How did she repay this generosity?" asked John Haubenreich. "By filing a lawsuit against him in California, which included a description of Mr. Brooks of being a 'paranoid, angry, deceitful and vindictive man.' "
In that lawsuit, she also said that Brooks "revels in using his wealth and influence to crush anyone who gets in the way."
In the federal court lawsuit in Nashville, however, Sanderson described Brooks as being like family. "He's my brother. That's just our relationship, we're so close," she said.
The $226,000 was paid by Brooks through Red Strokes. The payments went to her lawyers and were used for her two-year child custody dispute with her former husband.
Brooks had testified that he had gone into "great detail" with Sanderson about a repayment plan multiple times.
Sanderson had insisted that she had no knowledge of such a deal. The jury accepted Brooks' version of events.