Forman searching for answers

By John O'Brien | Mar 15, 2006

CHARLESTON - When attorney Roger Forman joined Charlotte Pritt's libel case against three Republican organizations three years ago, he was admittedly at a loss for understanding.

He, at first, didn't fully understand the stance he was about to take regarding negative ads and the false information that Pritt feels doomed her 1996 gubernatorial campaign.

Having since developed that understanding and thinking he'd proved it to a Fayette Circuit Court jury, he found himself in a familiar position when the verdict came down Monday:

At a loss for understanding.

"I really couldn't understand it," said Forman, who joined Hugh Roberts on a case that spanned nine years. "We did prove the essential elements of the case. We felt like we had such a wonderful opportunity. You know, I'm not sure I would've even done anything differently.

"I could not understand how anybody could find that she wasn't libeled."

Pritt's camp argued that the West Virginia State Victory Commission, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee produced ads harmful to the potential income of Pritt during her 1996 campaign against Republican Cecil Underwood.

Those ads implied Pritt was against honoring war veterans and introducing elementary-schoolers to sex education based on her voting record during her time as a state senator and delegate.

Forman believes those ads took the literal meaning of a vote on a certain bill and extended it to an unreachable conclusion concerning Pritt's beliefs.

And he thought that they had proved it against Mike Carey's defense, which had its case based on the information in the ads being comparable to information in voting records.

"I think the jury must have believed (the defense's case)," Forman said. "I can't imagine…

"The jury always does the right thing. I have real faith in the jury system. They are the conscience of the community.

"But I'm not sure how you could get from her votes to saying she proposed condoms for first-graders. I think that's an extremely unreasonable interpretation.

"You take a single vote, an anti-war vote, in the legislature and put in language to honor veterans, then you say she dishonors veterans…"

Forman, who proudly admits to being a Pritt backer during her campaign, said he was very bothered by the advertisers making claims that she couldn't be trusted around children. He called that "totally unsupported."

"I only saw her briefly afterwards," Forman added. "She was very disappointed, but she was very relieved we got a public forum to tell the truth about these ads and how they made her feel.

"We had an opportunity to bring this to a jury and they disagreed. What more can you ask? It's the ultimate freedom to have that opportunity."

Forman, who praised Roberts for sticking with the lengthy process instead of retiring and the defense team for a well-tried case, said he isn't sure about and can't comment on the possibility of an appeal. Right now, he is filing post-trial motions, allowing for an overturn by Judge Paul Blake should the judge feel inclined to do so. The post-trial motions are also a pre-requisite for an appeal.

The hope for a future appeal is deflated, though, by the realization of the current outcome. It's one that Forman will have to learn to live with, even if he doesn't understand it.

"We really believe these were false ads, and we really believe they influenced the outcome of an election," he said. "That's pretty horrible.

"I believe in (free speech) completely, but this is one area where a line can be crossed. We just didn't prove it to the jury."

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