Almanac

News - March 27, 2013

John Woodell countersued in cellphone/sign caper

by Sandy Brundage

Well, now the shoe's on the other foot: First John Woodell sued two people for defamation. Now one, Chuck Bernstein, has countersued Mr. Woodell — for defamation.

Mr. Woodell, husband of Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, sued fire board director Virginia Chang Kiraly and Mr. Bernstein in October, alleging that the pair told the media, police and others that he'd stolen campaign signs during the 2011 fire board election. Both defendants denied doing so.

"I had hoped that the matter would be resolved without the necessity of a trial and I worked toward that end," Mr. Bernstein told the Almanac. "However, it appears that there will not be a settlement and so I had to proceed."

He said he considered the lawsuits an enormous waste of time, money, and energy.

"I never accused John Woodell of doing anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. I like John and I am sorry if anything I may have said was misinterpreted to suggest I was accusing him," Mr. Bernstein said. "I did not choose to engage in this legal action and I would never have initiated a legal action. However, I must defend myself against this unwarranted lawsuit and, insofar as it appears that John has accused me of wrongdoing, I want to defend vigorously my reputation and integrity."

All parties agree that someone uprooted Ms. Chang Kiraly's campaign sign from Mr. Bernstein's yard. He later found the sign tossed into the bushes, lying near Mr. Woodell's cellphone, which was turned in to police.

Mr. Woodell denied vandalizing the sign. A court filing states that the plaintiff may have dropped his phone while walking the dog in the neighborhood where both the Woodells and Bernsteins live.

Now Mr. Bernstein's suit accuses Mr. Woodell of knowingly making false statements to the district attorney, among others, that Mr. Bernstein had stolen the phone, that were then published in news reports about the case.

The filing of the countersuit delayed a case management conference, originally scheduled for March 21, to May 2 to give Seth Rosenberg, Mr. Woodell's attorney, time to review the action. He was not immediately available for comment.

A judge recently denied a request by the other defendant, Ms. Chang Kiraly, to dismiss the case.

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