CHARLESTON – Both a Fayette County man and a Pennsylvania private investigator take issue with comments a state Supreme Court justice-elect made not only about her role in a wrongful death suit, but also a Putnam County attorney representing the man in an future lawsuit.
Recently, The West Virginia Record reported on a lawsuit Margaret A. Workman filed in 2007 against Roy E. Bell of Fayetteville and Richard A. Peterson, a Greenville, Pa., attorney.
In her suit, Workman accused Peterson of stealing away Bell as a client in a wrongful-death suit she was assisting him with in Fayette Circuit Court. Also, knowing Bell was of "low-intellect," Peterson manipulated him into making slanderous comments about her during her campaign for state Senate, Workman's suit alleges.
According to court records in Fayette County, Bell retained Workman in September 2001 to assist him in becoming the administrator of his deceased son Jeremy's estate. A year later, Judge John Hatcher named Bell, along with his ex-wife, Kimberly Ball, as co-administrator of the estate.
In 1999, records show Ball, with the assistance of Teays Valley attorney Frank Armada, filed a wrongful-death suit against former Beckwith Elementary School Principal Edgar W. Friedrichs. It was at Friedrich's cabin in Thurmond that Jeremy, then 12-years-old, died on Nov. 7, 1997, while on a fishing trip with Friedrichs and fellow Beckwith student Michael Pascocciello.
Though officials, including then-Fayette County Prosecutor Paul M. Blake, ruled Jeremy's death an accident and closed their investigation three days after his death, Friedrichs was later convicted in 2005 of murdering Jeremy. Three years prior to his conviction for murder, a Fayette County jury found Friedrichs guilty of molesting not only Pascocciello, but also another Beckwith student, Jonathan Treadway.
'Passing the trash'
In separate telephone interviews, both Bell and Barber said Workman was brought on for the sole purpose of getting Bell into a decision-making capacity for the wrongful death suit. Though adding the Fayette Board of Education as a co-defendant was part of the plan, the main goal was to gain access to Jeremy's autopsy report to build a criminal case against Friedrichs.
Because Bell's cousin Elsie Deal hired him in October 1999 to investigate Jeremy's death, Barber said he approached Blake about the report. Blake, Barber said, referred him to Armada, who then referred him back to Blake.
Also, in late 1999, Barber questioned Armada why he had only
named Friedrichs and not the Board in the suit. When Armada said he had no evidence the Board was in any way responsible for Jeremy's death, Barber offered him the evidence he'd uncovered.
Among Barber's discoveries was that allegations suffered as early as 1968 Friedrichs was pedophile when he first worked as a teacher at Prospect Park Elementary School in Delaware County, Pa. Despite evidence he was molesting children following allegations leveled against him by the parents of John Stillman, officials with the Interboro School District allowed Friedrichs to quietly resign his teaching position in 1973.
In 1975, Friedrichs resurfaced in Fayette County. In effect, Barber said, Interboro was guilty of "passing the trash" from children in one school district to another.
The evidence he offered Armada, Barber said, could have been used for not only the wrongful-death, but also the civil rights suit Peterson eventually filed in 2003. However, for whatever reason, Barber said Armada chose not to.
"Frank Armada is guilty of incompetent counsel on behalf of the estate for not filing the federal civil rights suit," Barber said.
Believing there to be a cozy relationship between Friedrichs and county officials, including Blake, Barber decided to focus his efforts on finding current students Friedrichs may be molesting. In February 2001, he turned his findings over to the West Virginia State Police.
According to court records, the Fayette County grand jury on Sept. 12, 2001, indicted Friedrichs of one count of sexual abuse in the 1st degree, and four counts of sexual abuse by a custodian. The day before, Bell hired Workman to assist him in becoming administrator of Jeremy's estate.
Given this fact, Barber said, Workman can't take true credit for locating witnesses beneficial to the case against Friedrichs. Though she took some depositions, all Workman did is follow the trail he blazed, Barber said.
"Her claim she did the investigation is absurd," Barber said.
Also, Barber says Workman leaving open the option for Bell to be named as the estate's co-administrator, rather than getting Ball removed, still left Armada with some control over the files.
Instead of working toward using the information to get Friedrichs indicted for Jeremy's murder, which happened in May 2003, Barber said Workman focused on getting only a settlement for Bell.
The reason Barber said he and Bell approached her about taking the case was due to the fact that she was not only a former Supreme Court justice, but also one recognized for her child advocacy.
However, seeing her performance in the Bell case, Barber says he has his doubts about her commitment to child advocacy.
"Not only is Margaret Workman not a child advocate, but she is also a pedophile enabler," he said.
Also, Barber said he found it "unconscionable" she would refer to Bell as someone with "low-intellect" especially after they entered into a contract together.
Along with Huntington attorney and fellow Democrat Menis E. Ketchum, Workman, 60, on Nov. 4 was elected to one of the two open seats for Supreme Court. In 1988, Workman was elected to the Court defeating incumbent Justice and current Attorney General Darrell McGraw, making her the first woman ever elected to statewide office. She resigned in 1999, just shy of her full 12-year term, citing "life issues."
Seeking justice, not cash
Bell said that if anyone's mental state needs questioned, it is Workman. Along with accusing him of being of "low intellect" in her lawsuit, Bell said when he and Peterson made a visit to her office in November 2002, Workman handed him a motion she filed in the wrongful death suit to have a guardian ad litem appointed on his behalf.
However, when he and Peterson returned to Fayetteville, Bell said they discovered the filing was bogus.
"Come to find out she never filed it," he said.
Also, Bell is puzzled why she would tell an outright lie that he not only apologized to her after the television ad he did for Vic Sprouse, Workman's Republican opponent for state Senate in 2004, but also Armada would be representing him in a suit against Peterson.
"One thing is for sure, I never apologized to that woman," Bell said. "I never had anything to apologize for."
"He [Armada] is never, ever going to file anything on my behalf," he added. "She's a crazy woman."
Also, Bell says Workman touting how she and Armada were the only attorneys to help him win some money is beside the point. The goal was to get a suspected pedophile out of the schoolhouse, and not to play a legal lottery.
"There's no justice in civil justice," Bell said.
The Record attempted to get a comment from both Workman and Armada. However, Workman was not immediately available for comment, and Armada did not return repeated telephone calls.