Fayette County

Verdict: Optometrist who shot employer should pay $11 million

A Fayette County jury has ruled that a Lexington optometrist convicted of murder should pay $11 million in damages to the survivor of his attack.

Michael J. Flick killed Christina Wittich, 28, and shot her boyfriend, Randall Lambirth, in the arm in May 2005.

A jury found Flick guilty on Jan. 23, 2008, of intentional murder, first-degree burglary and assault under extreme emotional disturbance. Flick is serving a life sentence.

Lambirth, also an optometrist, filed a civil lawsuit against Flick in 2006 seeking $500,000 to $800,000 in compensatory damages and at least $2 million in punitive damages, said Lambirth's attorney, Bruce Simpson. On Monday, a jury awarded Lambirth the maximum $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.

"Michael Flick had his day in court during the criminal trial," Simpson said Tuesday. "That case was all about him. It was not about the victims. Yesterday was Randall Lambirth's day in court."

Lambirth said in an interview Tuesday that he doesn't expect to be able to collect on the award because Flick is imprisoned, but he hopes it sends a message to criminals: "You may go to jail, but that's not the only punishment you're going to get."

Flick did not attend the trial, nor was his side of the case presented to the jury.

His attorney withdrew from the case earlier this year, stating that Flick was "unable to afford to compensate counsel."

A court-appointed guardian issued a report in July, saying that Flick had been unable to find an attorney to represent him.

Lambirth and Flick had been involved in a business dispute and a lawsuit before Wittich's slaying. Lambirth bought Flick's optometry practice next to LensCrafters at Lexington Green in September 2003 but was to employ Flick for three more years.

The guardian's report said Flick alleges that he had "severe depression" because "Lambirth did what he could each day to torment Flick at work in hopes that he would quit so Lambirth would not have to pay Flick in full for the practice."

In November 2004, Lambirth fired Flick after learning that Flick was working at another optometry practice on Saturdays.

Flick filed a wrongful-termination and breach-of-contract lawsuit in March 2005. The men did not speak or see each other again until May 20, 2005, the day of the shooting.

Flick shot Wittich in the side and back while she was in the kitchen of Lambirth's home on Landridge Drive. When Lambirth returned and tried to attend to his girlfriend, Flick shot him.

Lambirth and his brother, Chris, who had been outside, restrained Flick until police came.

A civil suit against Flick filed by Wittich's family is pending.

An attempt to reach Flick on Tuesday night at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty was unsuccessful.

In a letter of apology to Wittich's family that was filed along with court documents, Flick said "it was by far the most stupid and incomprehensible mistake of my life."

Simpson said he did not know whether Flick has resources to pay the verdict, but he will be eligible for parole in 16 years.

"He could ... get a job and start making money and become a very successful person," Simpson said. "And I hope he does, because we'll be there to collect part of it."

Lambirth has sold the optometry practice but said he continues to work there as an employee.