A public spat between Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn and Virgin Islands News Online owner Julian Willock has now entered the legal arena, with Mr. Walwyn suing Mr. Willock for allegedly defamatory statements published on VINO.

The conflict stems from a speech Mr. Walwyn made in the House of Assembly on March 23, when he admonished Opposition Leader Julian Fraser for nominating Mr. Willock to the Public Service Commission, the body that has the power to appoint and discipline public servants.

“How you going to take somebody who got fired for misconduct and put them to adjudicate on who come in the civil service? And you could nominate him because he support them in the election?” Mr. Walwyn asked, apparently referring to Mr. Willock’s role in providing public relations services for Mr. Fraser during last year’s election campaigns.

Willock’s response

The day after Mr. Walwyn’s HOA statement, which did not mention Mr. Willock by name, the publisher responded in an e-mail sent to the media and an article published on VINO, which accused the minister of abusing his powers and stated that he isn’t qualified to hold office.

The e-mail and article are the subjects of Mr. Walwyn’s lawsuit: The minister — who because of parliamentary privilege cannot be sued for statements he makes in the HOA — is seeking to collect damages for libel and to have the article removed from VINO, according to the claim form filed by his attorney, Asha Johnson, on May 8.

Mr. Walwyn also seeks an injunction restraining Mr. Willock from again publishing “the same or similar words” that were in the e-mail and article, according to the claim form.

Those demands, however, didn’t stop Mr. Willock from again responding to the lawsuit Friday on VINO.

“We stand by that statement and will never be intimidated, bullied or not defend the good name of Mr. Willock, as it is clear what is the intention of desperate Myron,” stated the VINO article, which repeatedly referred to Mr. Walwyn as “desperate Myron” while referring to Mr. Willock as “esteemed.”

Reason for dismissal

The VINO article also denied Mr. Walwyn’s claim that Mr. Willock was fired for misconduct, calling that assertion a “bold faced lie.”

Mr. Walwyn’s allegation was apparently referring to the saga that preceded Mr. Willock’s 2012 dismissal from the public service, which started in 2010 when the Beacon reported expatriate journalists’ claims to have worked for VINO without work permits.

Shortly after the Beacon report, Mr. Willock, who was then the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Communications and Works, was placed on compulsory leave. Though the courts tossed out government’s subsequent investigation on technical grounds, Mr. Willock was later dismissed from the public service in 2012 for reasons that were not made public.

Mr. Willock told the Beacon this week that he couldn’t recall the exact reason then-Governor Boyd McCleary cited in his dismissal letter, but he said it was a general reason explaining that the dismissal was in the interest of Her Majesty’s government.

“Everybody knows I was dismissed for political reasons,” he said, adding that the PSC recommended in 2012 that he be reinstated.

Latest response

Mr. Willock’s response to Mr. Walwyn’s lawsuit last week contained many of the same content as the March 24 VINO article, including accusations that Mr. Walwyn is abusing his power and isn’t qualified to hold office.

Mr. Willock declined to say who specifically wrote the statements about Mr. Walwyn, but he said that they can be attributed to VINO’s parent company, Advance Marketing & Professional Services.

It’s not clear what specific statements Mr. Walwyn regards as defamatory. That information is presumably in the minister’s “statement of claim,” a court document that outlines exactly why he initiated legal action.

However, the statement of claim is not publicly available at the High Court Registry, and Mr. Walwyn’s representatives did not provide the Beacon the document before this issue’s press deadline yesterday.

No court hearings have been scheduled yet in relation to the matter, according to information at the Registry.

Previous lawsuit

This latest lawsuit isn’t the first time VINO has been sued by a National Democratic Party politician.

In 2012, Dr. Hubert O’Neal, who last year was elected to represent the Ninth District, filed a claim against VINO for an article that he claimedinaccurately reported on a lawsuit involving the company Robinson O’Neal Enterprises Limited, in which he holds shares.

The High Court ruled in Dr. O’Neal’s favour in a 2012 default judgement after Mr. Willock and AMPS failed to file required documents before an Aug. 23, 2012 deadline.

In late 2014, Master Georgis Taylor-Alexander awarded $20,000 of the $45,000 in damages Dr. O’Neal was seeking, according to a “decision of assessment of damages” filed with the court at that time.

Mr. Willock appealed that decision, but the appeal was struck down by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal, according to Dr. O’Neal.