The drama snowballed from an innocuous comment made in a school yard in 2010. A misunderstanding, perhaps, but one that no one could foresee escalating in the way that it did — with a drug-planting scheme against a former PTA president, and two graduates of elite law schools in jail.
The tangled and almost unbelievable story unfolded over the past two years in courtrooms in Orange County, Calif., as described in the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times, and ended Friday with a $5.7 million lawsuit award.
It all began on an afternoon like any other.
Kelli Peters, the former PTA president, was overseeing an after-school tennis program at Plaza Vista Middle School in Irvine, Calif.
Jill Easter, a graduate of the School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley was there to pick up her son from the program, but when she pulled up, she noticed that he wasn’t at his usual spot.
Easter started blaming Peters for her son’s tardiness, to which Peters responded that Easter’s son may have been “slow to line up.”
Peters’s choice of words — “slow” — was construed by Easter as a comment on her son’s intelligence.
And it was all downhill from there.
Peters recalled to ABC News that after her comment about Easter’s son being “slow,” Easter had yelled, “I will get you.”
And try to “get” Peters she did. For the next year, Easter and her husband, Kent Easter, a law firm partner and Stanford graduate, wrote to the principal calling for Peters to be fired from her volunteer position, according to trial testimony. The letters, which the Easters also circulated to parents, accused Peters of leaving their son unsupervised and causing his anxiety attacks.
When this tactic failed, Peters told ABC, the Easters filed lawsuits against her alleging that she had threatened Jill Easter and had tried to kill her.
That’s when things really got serious.
In February 2011, Irvine police got a call. On the line was a purportedly concerned father reporting the troubling behavior of a fellow parent.
The man who identified himself as Vijay Chandrasekhar complained earnestly in an Indian accent about one of the parent volunteers at his daughter’s Plaza Vista Middle School who “might be under the influence.”
“I saw a car driving very erratically, and it continued on into the parking lot,” he said. “It looked like they had something tucked away in the car behind the seat. Drugs. All over the place.” The man calling himself Chandrasekhar said he thought he recognized the driver as a woman named Kelli.
It was an unusual complaint for Irvine, which consistently ranks among the safest cities in the country.
A police officer arrived at the school and told Kelli Peters to empty the contents of her white car as teachers, students and her own daughter looked on in astonishment.
Sure enough, a bag of marijuana could be seen peeking out from a seat pocket. Underneath it were containers of Percocet and Vicodin, powerful prescription pain killers often abused and sold illegally on the black market.
The officer laid the drugs out on top of the car for all to see, according to ABC.
At the sight of this, Peters burst into tears. She dropped down onto her knees and began reciting the usual lines: “Please, they’re not mine. I swear they’re not mine.” On the day that the drugs were found in Peters’s car, she took a sobriety test and was brought in for police questioning for two hours at the school.
“Do you know anyone who would do this to you?” the police asked.
An answer came to Peters instantly. There was at least one person, no doubt. A fellow parent named Jill Easter.
A quick investigation revealed that “Vijay Chandrasekhar” wasn’t the caller’s real name. Police traced the call to a Newport Beach hotel near Kent Easter’s law firm, and surveillance footage placed him there at the time of the report. They also found the Easters’ DNA on the pills and marijuana pipe planted in Peters’s car.
Two years ago, Kent Easter was convicted of felony false imprisonment, while his wife pleaded guilty to the same charge. The Stanford graduate spent 86 days in jail; the Berkeley grad was there for 60 days.
He represented himself during the criminal trial, in which he argued that Jill Easter manipulated him while carrying on an affair with a local firefighter.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Peters filed suit against the couple. At the civil trial last week, Kent Easter admitted that he had “very stupidly, and unfortunately” planted drugs in Peters’s car in an attempt to get her arrested. Still, he argued that “the fact that something really bad was done to a person does not give them a winning Powerball number.”
Jill Easter, who now goes by Ava Everheart, did not testify.
“They are both highly educated attorneys,” Peters’s attorney, Rob Marcereau, told ABC. “Went to top schools. They should know better. They believe they’re above the law — that they can do anything to anyone.”
On Friday, an Orange County Superior Court jury determined that the Easters had acted with malice, oppression or fraud in their actions against Peters, awarding her $5.7 million in damages. Neither Kent nor Jill, who were divorced recently, commented after the verdict.
“This was really not about money,” Peters told the Orange County Register, wiping away tears. “This was about standing up to people that pick on other people and telling them it’s not okay to do this. I feel like justice has been served.”
Peters told the Register that the couple has never expressed any remorse.
“I think saying sorry goes a long way,” she said. “It would have gone a long way with me in the beginning. I wouldn’t have gone this far had they said they were sorry.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Kent Easter as a Stanford Law graduate. He went to Stanford for undergrad, and got his law degree at the University of California Los Angeles.
More from Morning Mix