Almanac

News - July 16, 2014

Judge upholds settlement in defamation lawsuit

by Sandy Brundage

A judge has denied a request to nullify a settlement agreement reached in a defamation countersuit by Menlo Park Fire Protection District board director Virginia Chang Kiraly against John Woodell.

In March, Mr. Woodell, husband of Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, agreed to pay $5,000.01 to Ms. Kiraly if she dismissed her lawsuit against him, according to court documents.

But after Ms. Kiraly filed her acceptance of the offer with the court, Mr. Woodell's attorney asked that the agreement be voided on grounds that she'd breached confidentiality because the filing was open to the public.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak ruled on Monday, July 7, that "there was no term in the offer of compromise requiring either that the parties fail to comply with the mandatory provision (to file the agreement with the court), or requiring that any such filing be done under seal."

Moreover, while the parties had agreed on confidentiality for certain information obtained during discovery, such as employment records, that "by its very language ... was never intended to pertain to motions of offers of compromise," the judge wrote.

Attorney Seth Rosenberg, who represents Mr. Woodell, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Woodell filed his defamation lawsuit in 2012, alleging Ms. Kiraly and Chuck Bernstein, now also on the fire board, told people that he'd vandalized campaign signs during the 2011 fire board election. Mr. Bernstein said he'd found an uprooted Kiraly campaign sign in his yard lying next to a cellphone that turned out to be Mr. Woodell's. Mr. Woodell denied vandalizing the sign.

Ms. Kiraly then filed the countersuit based on an email sent by Mr. Woodell to a former Menlo Park council member that suggested the fire board director had somehow gotten hold of his phone. She stated in court filings that she never had the cellphone in her possession.

In May, Judge Novak dismissed Mr. Woodell's lawsuit on grounds that he deliberately destroyed key cellphone evidence in the case before the defendants could examine his phone. He has appealed the dismissal.

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