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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Puna landlord loses slander suit over fire

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — A Big Island jury has rejected a landlord's claim that her tenant burned a Puna home in 1997 and awarded the tenant $1.3 million in damages.

It was the third time Ardythe Harmes failed to find support for her claims of arson. Three of her many Puna rental properties burned in 1997 and 1998.

First she filed an insurance claim after a Leilani Estates home burned on Aug. 3, 1997. Allstate Insurance fought it and a federal jury in May 1999 concluded Harmes burned her own home.

Then Harmes said retired professor Herbert Jensen had someone torch a Vacationland home he was renting on Aug. 18, 1997. Jensen sued her for slander.

Last week, a jury in a civil trial awarded Jensen $300,000 for slander and $1 million in punitive damages.

The third arson occurred Jan. 3, 1998, at another Leilani Estates rental. Harmes accused another man of the arson, but police declined to make an arrest.