Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Virginia Supreme Court reverses Petersburg sheriff's conviction

In Commonwealth v. Epps, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed a Petersburg Circuit Court's conviction of a former Petersburg sheriff for contempt of court. The case involved a dispute between the sheriff and Circuit Court Judge Baskervill regarding courthouse security. Sheriff Epps "removed a deputy from his post at the courthouse entrance while the building was open but court was not in session. Baskervill had the building locked and posted a sign and a court order saying it was closed because of a lack of security. Epps removed the sign and the court order, saying he - not the judge - was in charge of courthouse security and that the sign posed a security risk." At trial, Judge Baskervill testified against the sheriff over the sheriff's objection. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, but the Commonwealth appealed. The Supreme Court noted that the Virginia Code permitted a judge to testify in a court case only if the judge was a "victim." In this case, the judge "did not suffer any harm as a result of Sheriff Epps' actions. Any harm in this case was suffered by the court as an institution, not by Judge Baskervill personally." I really don't understand why the judge would want to testify, especially in light of the statute, because being a witness isn't any fun at all.