News

Dismissal of lawsuit against Menlo Park fire board directors may be appealed

Once all the legal maneuvering is over, this may wind up being the most expensive campaign sign in history: John Woodell has filed a court notice that he intends to appeal a judge's dismissal of the defamation lawsuit he brought against two Menlo Park fire board directors.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak tossed the suit last month on grounds that Mr. Woodell deliberately destroyed key cellphone evidence in the case.

The lawsuit, filed nearly two years ago, relates to a Virginia Chang Kiraly campaign sign found uprooted during the 2011 Menlo Park Fire Protection District board race. Chuck Bernstein said he'd found the sign in his yard lying next to a cellphone that turned out to belong to Mr. Woodell.

Mr. Woodell, married to Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, who is up for re-election this year, alleged that the defendants spread rumors that he'd vandalized that sign and others. He said he would never do such a thing.

In the notice filed on June 5, Mr. Woodell's counsel, which now includes an attorney specializing in appeals, argued that the judge's dismissal of his lawsuit was against the law, and that procedural irregularity and legal error as well as an abuse of discretion violated his right to a fair trial.

Seth Rosenberg, lead attorney for Mr. Woodell, was not available for comment by the Almanac's deadline.

According to Harmeet Dhillon, who represents Ms. Kiraly, her client has already spent more than $230,000 on legal expenses. The defendants filed requests that the plaintiff pay approximately $50,000 in court fees as a result of the dismissal at the same time that Mr. Woodell submitted his notice that he intends to appeal.

Ms. Dhillon said the notice may be an attempt to delay the final resolution of the case, given that the dismissal mandates that the plaintiff pay the court costs. She said she expects the judge's "thorough, well-reasoned" ruling to be upheld on appeal.

"A judge has the right under the civil procedure code to mete out this remedy when a litigant's behavior has been as egregious, and as damaging to the other side as John Woodell's in destroying critical evidence after he planned to file a lawsuit, hiding the fact that the evidence had been destroyed for well over a year, and giving several different and contradictory explanations for his behavior," Ms. Dhillon said. "A result is not improper (or beyond the court's authority) just because the loser doesn't like it."

Mr. Bernstein said he was just waiting to see what happens. "The notice could simply be a 'warning,' meant perhaps to encourage us not to proceed with collecting the costs to which we are entitled," he told the Almanac.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Enuff
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm

What an outrage!
Woodell and wife Kirsten Keith, who surely agrees with this latest ploy to waste more taxpayer monies in this soap opera of a frivolous lawsuit, are totally out of step with the community.
I guess they don't read the Almanac online...

Does anyone believe that Woodell's phone just happened to be under the uprooted sign? Or that someone stole his phone, uprooted the sign, and stuck the phone underneath to "incriminate" him? Wouldn't he want to make the evidence on the phone available to prove his innocence? Conversely, wouldn't he want to destroy the evidence if it proved his guilt?

The judge rightly blasted Woodell for erasing the evidence on the phone. And now he's crying that he didn't get a fair trial! Why? Because he didn't win?
These costly and childish shenanigans should end the political careers of both Woodell and Keith for good.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by motive
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

There is simply no motive for an adult to toss a sign for any candidate, let alone the fire board. On the other hand, the candidate was able to take advantage of television news coverage during a political campaign. The lack of broadcast television news at this point shows that nobody cares about this story.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 9, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Motive,

The $64,000,000 question is how Woodell's cell phone got under a discarded campaign sign of an opponent of the candidate he was supporting. You'll have to ask him. That's the question that seems to be nagging at people who know about Woodell's ridiculous lawsuit. I'd also like to know what motivated Woodell to intentionally destroy evidence that could have proven his innocence.

Woodell started this frivolous lawsuit, and he is continuing it by stating that the judge made am illegal ruling. I agree with Enuff that Keith has to have some knowledge about what her husband is doing. She is also an attorney, so I would hope that she would talk some sense into her husband, especially if she is running for city council again! It seems that neither one of them can take responsibility for their actions. They need to grow up or permanently get out of politics. I hope it's the latter!

Unfortunately for Kiraly and Bernstein, they have to deal with Woodell's nonsense and defend themselves. Then again, Woodell and Keith may want this "publicity" for Keith as she goes into campaign season. If that's the case, I hope Menlo Park voters realize that her reasoning is just as sick as her husband's and unelect her!


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