CHARLESTON - A month prior to her appointment as the newest Kanawha Circuit judge, a Charleston attorney, and chairwoman of the House of Delegates' Judiciary Committee was able to conclude a defamation suit filed against her by a South Charleston man by apologizing for her erroneous statement.
In July, Richard J. "Christian" Lindroth filed suit against both Webster, and the law firm of Bailey, Bucci and Javins for defamation. In his suit, Lindroth said Webster falsely accused him of being "a registered sex offender."
The registered sex offender reference came in an answer Webster filed on May 15 in the course of representing Lindroth's mother-in-law, Debbie McMillian, in a lawsuit Lindroth and his wife, Angela, filed against McMillian and the state Department of Health and Human Resources. In that suit, the Lindroths accused DHHR, one of its employees, Tamica Tolliver, and the company that operates its child-support collection system, Policy Studies Inc., of improperly withholding $1,269.59 from Angela, and giving it to McMillian while she had custody of Angela's daughter, Mya Shaw, in 2006 and 2007.
Court records show, McMillian was granted temporary custody of Mya, who at the time was 2- years-old, after Christian was charged in July 2006 on one count each of child abuse resulting in injury, child neglect resulting in injury and malicious wounding. As part of plea agreement, Lindroth was sentencing in February 2008 to two years home confinement for unlawful wounding, with credit for time served, and was registered with the State Police's Child Abuse and Neglect Registry."
In answering Lindroth's defamation suit, Webster said the reference to him being as sex offender was not done maliciously, and a motion was made to Judge Jennifer Walker, who's presiding over the Lindroth-DHHR suit, to have the reference expunged. However, citing a prior state Supreme Court ruling, Webster said attorneys, in the course of defending their clients, enjoy an absolute privilege to make defamatory statements so long "as it has some relation to the proceeding."
Before a scheduled hearing on Oct. 30 could be held on both Webster's, and a separate, but similar motion to dismiss McMillian made, the case was dismissed. According to L. Jill McIntyre, attorney for both Webster, and Bailey, Bucci and Javins, Lindroth agreed to dismiss the suit when Webster offered him an apology.
"She acknowledged she made an inadvertent remark about Mr. Lindroth being a sex offender when it should have been about the child abuse registry, and she apologized," said McIntrye speaking on Webster's behalf. "She expressed regret to Mr. Lindroth and he decided he did not want to pursue the case any further."
Records show Judge Irene C. Berger dismissed the case on Oct. 29. Gov. Joe Manchin on Dec. 2 appointed Webster as Berger's replacement following her approval by the U.S. Senate to become a federal district judge.
Prior to her appointment as circuit judge, Webster served for eight years as the lone delegate representing Kanawha County in the 31st House District. Following his election by the House as Speaker in 2007, Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, appointed Webster as judiciary chair.
Because she was appointed prior to January 2010, Webster will have to run in November's general election to fill Berger's unexpired term.
Kanawha Circuit Court, case number 09-C-1217