After an apparently unsuccessful attempt at mediation, Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn’s defamation lawsuit against Virgin Islands News Online could go to trial, according to a High Court order made last month.
The case came about after Mr. Walwyn filed a claim against VINO and its owner, Julian Willock, last May for allegedly defamatory statements made on the website last March.
In October, High Court Master Fidela Corbin-Lincoln sent the matter to mediation, writing in an order that “the parties should endeavour to have this matter resolved in a non-litigious manner.”
Apparently, that endeavour came up short, as High Court Master Eddy Ventose issued directions for the case to proceed to trial on Dec. 2 after Messrs. Walwyn and Willock both failed to show up for a case management conference on that day, according to court documents.
“The parties are to meet to settle the documents to be used at the trial of this matter, and the claimant [is] to file a list of the documents on or before the 28th day of February 2017,” Mr. Ventose’s order states. “Trial shall be conducted on a date to be set by the court office during the trial window in 2017.”
The High Court master also wrote in his order that Messrs. Walwyn and Willock are still encouraged to settle their dispute out of court, adding that the court should be informed immediately if such a settlement is reached.
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, a body that has the power to appoint and discipline public officers.
“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 dismissal from the public service in 2012 for reasons that weren’t made public, and his role in providing public relations services for Mr. Fraser during the 2015 election campaigns.
The day after Mr. Walwyn’s HOA statement, which did not mention Mr. Willock by name, VINO parent company Advance Marketing and Professional Services responded in a statement sent to the media and published on VINO. The AMPS statement accused the minister of abusing his powers and alleged that he isn’t fit 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.
An online search didn’t find the article in question on VINO, but as of this week the statement was still posted on the website’s Facebook page.
Attorney Charmaine Rosan-Bunbury is representing Mr. Willock in the matter. Neither Mr. Willock nor Mr. Walwyn commented on the matter.