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Judge lets defamation lawsuit proceed against John Woodell

Original post made on Jan 15, 2014

A judge declined to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by a fire board director against John Woodell, husband of Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 15, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (57)

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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2014 at 6:48 am

Finally a ruling that makes sense! This lawsuit is a waste of money and time. How frivolous!


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Posted by What really makes sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:20 am

What would really make sense would be for the judge to decree that both parties resign from all offices they currently hold in California, be banned from participating in any political activities, be prohibited from running for any elected office, and be barred from accepting any political appointments in the Golden State for twenty years.

That is a decision that most people who have followed this ridiculous drama would approve of. What a waste of the taxpayers' money and abuse of the judicial system. San Mateo County is the laughing stock of California and we have Woodell and Kiraly to thank for that.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

No, what the judge should do is rule that all involved are public figures and then throw out all these cases.

From TheFreeDictionary:
"Public Figure
A description applied in Libel and Slander actions, as well as in those alleging invasion of privacy, to anyone who has gained prominence in the community as a result of his or her name or exploits, whether willingly or unwillingly.

If a plaintiff in a libel or slander action qualifies as a public figure, he or she must show that the libelous or slanderous conduct of the defendant was motivated out of actual malice as required in the case of new york times co. v. sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964).


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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Lesson, If you find a political sign and a cellphone in some bushes……..Walk Away.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 16, 2014 at 7:31 pm

What really makes sense:

As far as I can tell, Kiraly did nothing wrong. The facts are that Woodell's cellphone was found next to her campaign sign in Chuck Bernstein's yard. How did Woodell's cellphone get into Bernstein's yard and next to Kiraly's sign? This, however, is clouding the issue of this judge's ruling.

Based on the article, the judge found enough evidence that Woodell defamed Kiraly, who is considered a puiblic figure. If Peter Carpenter is correct that a public figure must show actual malice, it's obvious that the judge thought that Woodell's email to Mickie Winkler, accusing Kiraly of having his cellphone was enough to prove actual malice on Woodell's part. I agree with Peter that the judge should rule that all these individuals are public figures, including Woodell as a member of the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee. Unfortunately, the first judge did not rule this way, so this case goes on. You have to wonder about the judiciary in San Mateo County, except for Judge Bergeron, who ruled correctly in Kiraly's case, I think.

As for the laughing stock of San Mateo County, I think we have Woodell and Kirsten Keith to thank. I can't imagine that she wouldn't know what her husband is doing and support it. Based on your comments, she should "be banned from participating in any political activities, be prohibited from running for any elected office, and be barred from accepting any political appointments in the Golden State for twenty years." This whole thing was only interesting to the media at first because she was the Vice Mayor of Menlo Park at the time. Otherwise, this would have been a non-story but just politics as usual, since campaign signs are stolen, vandalized, etc. during election season.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 16, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"mal·ice (mls)
n.
1. A desire to harm others or to see others suffer; extreme ill will or spite.
2. Law The intent, without just cause or reason, to commit a wrongful act that will result in harm to another."


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Peter Carpenter,

Based on the definition you provided, in my opinion, by Woodell filing this lawsuit in the first place and never having answered the question as to how his cellphone got into Bernstein's yard, I think he "desired to harm or to see others suffer" and with "extreme ill will or spite." In this case, that would be Bernstein and Kiraly, so yes, I think Woodell was motivated by "malice." Judge Bergeron ruled correctly that Kiraly should be able to pursue her defamation case against Woodell, if she wants.

Thank you for providing the definition. It fits Woodell and Kirsten Keith to a tee!


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Posted by the right call
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 17, 2014 at 9:21 am

Woodell apparently thought that the best defense is a strong offense, even if the offense is nonsensical. It would have been smarter for him to have maintained a low profile for a while and give us all time to forget. Instead, we continue to be reminded of his adolescent hijinks against a political rival. A waste of public resources too.


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Posted by Goober
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 17, 2014 at 11:53 am

Hope Kirsten Keith (Mrs. John Woodell) doesn't run for re-election.

There's an incredible pettiness in this saga which I suspect she could have tempered long ago.


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Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Let's all talk about this at the first food truck event in February...


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Posted by Ms. Ms.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Mr. Goober, Who is this "Mrs. John Woodell"? Are you referring to Kirsten Keith, who is married to John Woodell? FYI: Kirsten Keith is the only person who can name herself. She has. She is Kirsten Keith.


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Posted by matt
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:26 pm

this is great, my 8 year old and 5 year old kids are better behaved.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm

> She is Kirsten Keith.

Yes. Let's hope voters remember to whom she is married & with whom she presumably shares values, information & confidences.


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Posted by Leave Her Alone
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Kirsten Keith has nothing to do with this embarrassing saga brought to us by Ms. Kiraly & Mr. Woodell. I don't hear anyone dragging Mr. Kiraly's name through the mud.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Leave Her Alone,

You are wrong. Kirsten Keith's husband, John Woodell, brought this on himself. How did his cellphone get into Bernstein's yard and next to Kiraly's campaign sign? In the judge's ruling, Kirsten Keith herself provided a declaration that apparently was objected to by Kiraly's attorney, and the judge agreed with Kiraly's attorney and sustained the objection. So, yes, Kirsten Keith is now part of this lawsuit in terms of defending her husband. Keith has every right to defend her husband, and I don't blame her, but don't make her out to be completely innocent of this situation.

Kiraly had an incredibly high standard to meet for the judge to rule in her favor. She had to prove that Woodell maligned her as a public figure. I don't know what Keith's declaration was about, but the judge obviously didn't think it was relevant. However, Keith clearly didn't think that her husband defamed Kiraly, probably thought it was ok for her (Keith) husband to lie about Kiraly, and supported his views by providing a declaration against Kiraly. Keith HAS contributed to this "embarrassing saga" brought by her husband.

I agree with Downtowner:

"She is Kirsten Keith." Voters should remember who she is married to and who she supports, "shares values, information, and confidences."

Kirsten Keith is a public figure, and this lawsuit, which was brought on by her her husband, shows her complete lack of character, moral compass, and ethical behavior, in my opinion. Keith does not deserve to be in elected office to serve as my representative. Not now or ever!


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Posted by ashamed
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

It is very sad that any lawsuit was filed in the first place. I don't condone any campaign season hijinks. Even if there were some, it's impossible to imagine how suspicions became expensive legal matters.

I don't blame Kiraly for fighting back since she has had to incur expensive legal defense and probably wants compensation for it.

Nevertheless, this is a shameful episode all around.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Ashamed,

I agree with you that the it's very sad that Woodell filed a lawsuit in the first place, [Portion removed; don't accuse anyone of wrong-doing without proof.] Woodell [Portion removed] started concocting ridiculous scenarios, such as Kiraly stealing his phone and conspiring to frame him.

If anyone can stop this nonsense it is Woodell and Kirsten Keith. The fact that their attorney, Seth Rosenberg, could even contemplate appealing the judge's ruling (Woodell's loss) after Kiraly met incredibly high standards that resulted in the judge allowing Kiraly's defamation suit to move forward shows that, perhaps, Woodell and Keith want to continue this nonsense. And for what?

I have somewhat been following this ridiculous joke that Woodell caused, and Kiraly and Bernstein did not do anything illegal as far as I can see. If Woodell tossed Kiraly's campaign sign into Bernstein's yard, then Woodell's actions are illegal, including vandalizing Kiraly's sign and trespassing onto Bernstein's property. You would think that Keith, being an attorney, would understand these basic legal concepts. Apparently, she does not, which asks a whole host of other questions that are not relevant to this discussion.


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Posted by Perry Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm

There is no proof that Mr. Woodell vandalized the Kiraly sign. Yes his cell phone was found in the proximity of the sign; but the cell phone could have been lost or stolen. There are a number of theories but no one theory predominates. And one should not convict based on personal like or dislike.

It is unfortunate that these two immature political figures have chosen to drag their mutual enmity into the courts. Charges against both parties should be dismissed and both parties should pay their respective attorneys and split the actual court costs.

Their behavior is a real embarrassment to the community. A pox on both houses.


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Posted by pragmatic reader
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm

It is no wonder that Menlo Park is the laughing stock of this valley. All these lawsuits are nonsense.

If Mr. Woodell is trying to restore his good name....sorry that horse has left the barn. This whole incident is embarrassing in more ways than one. his wife is a lawyer and they should BOTH know better. The personal stuff now available and on record about their family through discovery should be enough to at least re-consider their lawsuit. But all these plaintiffs egos can not let go. Shameful and embarrassing.


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Posted by good neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Are "we" now threatening children in an attempt to keep the truth hidden?


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Posted by conscience
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 20, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Let's not forget that Mr. Woodell was supporting Ms. Kiraly in her election to the Fire Board. If Woodell's cell phone was found on or near the Bernstein property and he (Bernstein) knew that the phone belonged to Woodell….his neighbor….why take it to the police instead of returning it to the owner. I say, a pox on both of them and perhaps Mr. Bernstein. It's a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and an embarrassment to Menlo Park.


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Posted by support?
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 20, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Woodell claims he supported Kiraly. But he did not endorse her and in his deposition (now part of court record) admits he never handed out her campaign lit, unlike what he did for candidate Silano.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm

This whole thing is stupid. I am a Menlo Park resident who hadn't heard anything about any of this, until reading this news article in the Almanac. First of all, don't these people have anything better to do with their time? If this is about "principle", please think again. In the end, all of this will be "settled" one way or another (with probably not much hand-slapping by the courts, given the crazy circumstances), and the winners will surely be the lawyers. Everyone else involved will just be wasting time. Time is the only non-replaceable resources. Given that nobody cares about the internal feuding of these politicians, etc., except them, MOVE ON. Stop holding grudges and wasting your own time.


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Posted by good conscience
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm

If anyone can post multiple times, simply by resetting their IP address, and several anonymous posts have quoted information that is not public, we can now all see what's going on here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Realist
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Kiraly had no choice but to defend herself. When a complaint is filed and served on the defendant, he or she can answer the complaint or not going into default which means losing the suit and paying the requested amount of money. What was her choice. My guess is that, by now, she has spent a very large amount and for what? Woodell should never have filed a law suit. It was petty, mean and vindictive. He is married to a Menlo Park Council member and it has to be humiliating to his wife that her husband has done this.

Lawn signs, cell phones, leaflets, union loyalty, pensions? It's all campaign nonsense. To some, it's serious business and to others it's an every other year parade of false advertising and promises of listening to residents and loving Menlo Park.

When this unpleasant story is over, all we will have is the feeling that Menlo Park elections have a unique smell about them. Who loses in the end is the residents. Woodell has been involved with many local campaigns, sometimes "helping" candidates who are running against one another. It all nuts and one can only wonder how Woodell's wife couldn't advise him to simply step back and chill.


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Posted by support?
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 20, 2014 at 5:14 pm

What info here is "not public"??? News stories = public; court filings = public; and everyone already knows John Woodell and Kirsten Keith are married.


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Posted by Please share
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

If you have access to depositions, and everything in those depositions is public, please post links to these documents. If you were provided copies of depositions, and these documents are not public, you should post a full explanation.


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Posted by support?
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Go to the county court website, search the case index by party name and voila, links, filings, documents. The entire world can access what was submitted for court record. Guess what? Portions of depositions were submitted for the record.

Trying to paint my comments as something nefarious just makes you look stupid.


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Posted by Please share
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The process described sounds perfectly reasonable, but I just spent several minutes trying to locate and download these documents and I was unable to do so. If anyone has actually seen the depositions, and can provide links to the specific pages that were quoted above, please do so.


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Posted by support?
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm

You can't link to court documents. The only way to view them is clicking on each entry and exerting enough patience to let the documents load. Which frankly is a good thing otherwise the conspiracy camp would be claiming documents could be altered, I'm sure. Just get them straight from the court website.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2014 at 7:10 pm

By perusing these documents I noticed a court judgment on October 22, 2013 that Chuck Bernstein pay John Wodell $18,378.72 in attorney's fees and costs. This is relevant to Perry Mason's comment that they simply eat their own costs and go their own separate ways.


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Posted by the right call
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I just spent a few minutes scanning the court documents.I have a hard time understanding what is driving John Woodell. A desire to hand most of his wealth over to his attorney? I'd say he's a few campaign signs short of an election.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The real tragedy is that Kiraly and Bernstein are being forced to pay huge legal fees simply to feed this circus.


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Posted by the right call
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 20, 2014 at 8:26 pm

I'm not sure I'd elevate this to tragedy status, but that's how our system works. If one side has plenty of money and the other side doesn't, the side with money will prevail. In this situation, with all parties involved having access to resources, you need a decisive judge to put an end to it. But judges are all lawyers, and this is how many lawyers make a living, by encouraging pointless suits.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 20, 2014 at 10:02 pm

(Portion removed)

From various newstories, Bernstein and Luray did not go the papers. Therefore, they did not cause a "scandal." However, given that Woodell's phone was found in Bernstein's yard next to Kiraly' campaign sign, there was every reason to believe that Woodell was up to no good. Even if Bernstein went to the press, that is not illegal, but he did not let his emotions get in the way. The question remains... how did Woodell's phone get into Bernstein's yard next to Kiraly's campaign sign?


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Posted by Perry Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 21, 2014 at 8:22 am

There exists reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Woodell vandalized the campaign sign. It is possible that someone purloined the cell phone and was out to create some mischief.

This is not to say that Mr. Woodell is guilty or innocent; but the burden of proof rests on the accuser. So far no one has met the burden of proof that Mr. Woodell vandalized the campaign sign. And as far as stealing campaign signs there has not been a scintilla of proof to support that accusation.

Since there are public accusations that besmirched Mr. Woodell's reputation he is entitled to pursue legal recourse to clear his name.

On the other hand, theories are not proof and to say that Ms. Kiraly stole the cell phone requires proof. So far no proof has been offered.

So it looks like Ms. Kiraly and Mr. Woodell have fought to a draw. Both lawsuits should be dismissed with prejudice with the respective parties paying their attorneys and splitting the court costs.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 21, 2014 at 8:52 am

Perry Mason,

You offer nothing new to this discussion. You're just pontificating, although you are correct that the attorneys win in this case.

Just remember who started this whole nonsense- John Woodell. Whether or not you think there's "reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Woodell vandalized the campaign sign," you cannot explain how his phone got there. To even think that Kiraly and Bernstein had a hand in Woodell's mess shows your bias toward Woodell. Also, I notice that you do not mention Bernstein whatsoever. What of him? After all, he was the one who found Woodell's phone and suggested calling the newspapers. Or, do you have something against Kiraly... because she's a woman and a Republican?


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Posted by Perry Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 21, 2014 at 9:06 am

Immaturity and overinflated egos are the root cause for these lawsuits. There is plenty of blame to go around and it is equally heaped on both persons though I sincerely hope that both the Democrat and Republican parties not take sides in this colossal embarrassment.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2014 at 9:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Since there are public accusations that besmirched Mr. Woodell's reputation he is entitled to pursue legal recourse to clear his name."

Correct, however he has made himself a public figure so the standard that he must meet to show that he has been libeled is much higher:

"Public Figure
A description applied in Libel and Slander actions, as well as in those alleging invasion of privacy, to anyone who has gained prominence in the community as a result of his or her name or exploits, whether willingly or unwillingly.

If a plaintiff in a libel or slander action qualifies as a public figure, he or she must show that the libelous or slanderous conduct of the defendant was motivated out of actual malice as required in the case of new york times co. v. sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964).


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 21, 2014 at 9:27 am

It's difficult for me to get around the fact that Mr. Woodell's cell phone was found at the scene.

That's either a remarkable coincidence or a conspiracy worthy of Niccolo Machiavelli. And I don't think any of these people are nearly that smart or calculating.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Susan Smith
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 21, 2014 at 9:55 am

I find it interesting how dedicated "Finally" is to this thread...as if that person has a dog in this fight.....no one cares THAT much.....really


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Pogo, and Susan remember my advice……Walk away


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Susan Smith
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 22, 2014 at 9:30 am

One of the biggest problems in political constituency today, is people who walk away from observing the people they have elected, Mr. Stogner.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 22, 2014 at 10:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

None of these individuals acted in an elected capacity.


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Posted by What really makes sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 23, 2014 at 11:37 am

[Post removed. No personal attacks please.}


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Posted by Oath
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 12:06 am

Peter you're NOT RIGHT! Chuck Bernstein ran for city council.....Virginia Kiraly ran for state assembly, school board and fire board. When a candidate files papers to run for office they sign an oath. May be they are not elected officials, but they signed an oath of office to run for public office. Woodall did not sign such an oath as a member of some democratic interest group. While candidates and citizens their standards of conduct should reflect honesty and high moral standards. I wonder what a trial will uncover? I wonder if the Daily Post and Almanac have copies of the e-mails, court motions and depositions. May be they can have us review them and have us make an evaluation. We will see during the trial part of this adventure.


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Posted by Finally!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:16 am

Oath,

Woodell took an oath as a Joe Simitian's alternate on the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee. Take a look at the rules of being a member or an alternate of a party central committee. Do your research because you're NOT RIGHT!


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Posted by burrito
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 8:10 am

It is safe to assume that no person has ever taken the oath of office to serve as an alternate on such a club or committee.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 8:31 am

Until someone shows what elected office any of these actors held at the time, Mr. Carpenter's point remains unchallenged.

None of these individuals acted in an elected capacity.


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Posted by Oath
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 9:36 am

Do you think their options and state of mind have changed when they become elected officials? Bernstein and Kiraly are fire board members, using that good common sense and knowledge to guide our fire services of Menlo Park. Good thing there are 3 others that can cancel out their wisdom and good judgement......Ha! The voters made a great choice again....a lot of smoke and mirrors here. Woodall good luck and bring out the real facts regarding their character in your trial. Show the world what they have as honorable elected officials. What a fraud on the voter and taxpayer. Peter C, get out of this fight, you're better than this!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Peter C, get out of this fight, you're better than this!"

I did -long ago:

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 16, 2014 at 10:34 am
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
No, what the judge should do is rule that all involved are public figures and then throw out all these cases.


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Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Though I agree with the "walk away" comment (lest this childish pissing match take away more of people's time away from really important issues), the part of me that looks at National Inquirer headlines when waiting in lne at the grocery store wants to know:

-- Has a trial date be set (if so, when)?
-- Will the Almanac be covering it? (and if so, will it remain neutral)?


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Posted by What really makes sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm

To find out more go to the San Mateo County Superior Court Website at the web link below(Case CIV517287)

Web Link


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Posted by ashamed
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

I don't think it's right for a judge to throw out all of it just because it's a stinky mess. Seems to me that a countersuit, if valid as it now seems to be, might be the only way to recoup expenses for defending oneself.

Someone started this expensive legal battle, and that's Woodell. There were other ways to resolve the situation, especially among neighbors and members of the Menlo Park community. Everyone loses, but the instigator of the expensive path should bear the brunt of the costs.


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Posted by assumptions
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2014 at 11:37 am

In this country, individuals are considered innocent until proven guilty.


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Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

In this country, people can also sue others for absolutely no reason.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What the Dickens?
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 28, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Lets all hope this gets wrapped up faster than the interminable Jarndyce v. Jarndyce proceedings in Dickens' classic Bleak House.


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