MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Three defendants accused of failing to report abuse at a Berkeley County elementary school will now have 30 days to seek different legal counsel.
Christina Lester, June Yurish and Kristin Douty could face up to 90 days in prison on the misdemeanor criminal charge. Up until Monday, they had all been represented by Defense Attorney Christian Riddell.
Now, at least two of them will need to seek alternate representation in the criminal case.
Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes Delligatti and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Watson petitioned the court to prevent the defendants from having the same representation.
During a hearing Monday morning before 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Laura Faircloth, Watson argued that all three having the same attorney could set up a conflict of interest, interfering with each defendant’s right to get the best legal advice from her attorney. It could also set up a mistrial. “What if a defendant says, ‘I didn’t know about this offer. I didn’t get good advice,’ so (a verdict) gets overturned?”
For his part, Riddell said the 6th Amendment guaranteed his clients to choose whomever they want as their representation.
Judge Faircloth said the defendants have “a right to go to their attorney with information that could incriminate the others.”
In her ruling, the judge said, while there is no conflict of interest this early in the proceedings, “there is significant potential for serious conflict of interest” should the three defendants retain the same counsel in the criminal trial.
At least one of the three defendants was visibly upset at the ruling.
The criminal charges stem from an incident last October in which mother Amber Pack placed a recording device in her non-verbal daughter Adri’s hair when she sent Adri to her special education class at Berkeley Heights Elementary School.
The recording reveals verbal and possible physical abuse, according to a civil complaint filed by the Pack family attorney Ben Salango.
Douty and Yurish were aides in the classroom and have reportedly told police they would never speak to children that way.
Lester was the supervising teacher in the classroom.
All three have since resigned from Berkeley County Schools.