Archive for the 'Law and Justice' Category

State Police Investigating County Clerk’s Office

State police are investigating the Albemarle County Circuit Court’s office, Graelyn Brashear reports. Nobody’s saying what it’s all about, other than that it involves an employee of the office, but since the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts is involved, it’s pretty likely that this is about ongoing financial irregularities in the office’s bookkeeping.

The Clerk of Court is Debbie Shipp, a 30-year veteran of the office who was elected as clerk in 2007 after eight-term incumbent Shelby Marshall stepped down. Annual audits by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts started looking grim in 2011, and did not improve any in 2012 or in 2013. Shipp was given the benefit of the doubt by many because of the serial deaths of her son and sister (an employee of her office), but the auditor’s report made clear that her office’s financial practices are chronically irregular, with no plan to improve them, and lack many of the basic practices employed by most people in their personal finances. The Democrat is serving an eight-year term, so she’s not up for reelection until November of next year.

Of course, it’s possible that this investigation is unrelated, but given the involvement of the state auditor, it seems likely that there is suspicion that this is not about incompetence, but fraud. Nobody’s been arrested, nobody’s been charged, and perhaps nobody will be. No word on what the next step is, but apparently the investigation is ongoing.

Randy Allen Taylor Charged with Murder

Randy Allen Taylor has been charged with the murder of Nelson teenager Alexis Murphy, Justin Faulconer reports in the Lynchburg News and Advance. Taylor was arrested a week after the 17-year-old’s disappearance in August, and charged with abducting her. Now a grand jury has indicted him on charges of murder. Murphy has not been found, and Taylor apparently is still insisting on his innocence, instead blaming a black, male drug dealer.

Notorious Rapist Changes His Name

Super-creepy convicted rapist Jeffrey Theodore Kitze has changed his name to Jeffrey Ted Miller, Courteney Stuart writes in C-Ville Weekly, after a judge made the terrible decision to permit him to do so. You might know Kitze/Miller for the 1989 rape and beating of his sister’s UVA roommate, or you might know him for his more recent creepy stalking of volunteers for the Virginia Organizing Project and Food Not Bombs, which has him in prison again, eligible for release in five years. The part that’s especially troubling is that there’s no legal obligation that any of Kitze/Miller’s victims be notified of his name change. In this case, the guy’s probation officer spotted the name change and notified Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford, who has notified his victims.

So, let it be known that Jeffrey Kitze and Jeffrey Miller are the same guy. To help out Google, here’s that data as HTML, formatted to allow search engines to understand that one equals the other:

Jeffrey Kitze
Jeffrey Miller
Jeffrey Theodore Kitze
Jeffrey Ted Miller

You’re welcome, future googlers.

Audit: County Clerk’s Office Still a Mess

The annual Auditor of Public Accounts’ review of Charlottesville and Albemarle Clerks of Court are in, and the Albemarle Circuit Court continues to be in terrible shape, J. Reynolds Hutchins reports for the Daily Progress. The audit (PDF) of January 2012–March 2013 found that Clerk Debbie Shipp is holding into $434k that should probably be turned over to the state treasury as unclaimed property, submitted an annual report that was off by $64k, and an audit of 53 random cases found that 14 (26%) had significant errors. The audit also found that legally required fees aren’t always being charged, the books aren’t being balanced consistently, and Shipp didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. In her response (page 7 of the audit), Shipp cites the sudden death of her sister and employee, Pam Melampy, in January, as well as insufficient staffing. Shipp says that some of these concerns have been addressed, but for the remainder it doesn’t appear that anything has been done, or that there’s even a plan to do anything, other than want more staff.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is how things went with last year’s audit, and the year before that. When Shipp cited insufficient staffing last year, county spokeswoman Lee Catlin flatly denied that, saying that these were problems of management, not staffing. The good news, I suppose, is that the 2011 audit found a 52% error rate, and last year’s audit found a 41% error rate—26% is an improvement, although the small sample size—53 cases—limits the reliability of that number.

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There are concerns found in the report about Charlottesville Clerk of Court Llezelle Dugger, too, although certainly not as severe, on balance. In 2011, when Paul Garrett was still Clerk of Court, the audit was a train wreck, but after Dugger was elected, the 2012 audit found a clean bill of health. This year’s audit finds that the clerk didn’t reconcile the bank account for the past year, that the office is holding north of $100k that may qualify as unclaimed property, a random audit of 41 cases found errors in 25 of them (61%), and Dugger also didn’t deal with reports of levied fines for which there was no record of payment. While that sounds bad, in Dugger’s response she says that she does balance the books, that she’s had to get folks certified in handling some types of claims (when she took over the office, nobody was certified), that none of the $100k actually qualifies as unclaimed property, and that the 25 errors have been fixed and a new process has been put in place to prevent them from happening again.

For comparison, three neighboring counties have also been audited within this period. The audits of Buckingham County and Greene County found no problems, and Nelson only had problems in their random case audits, with 38% having some kind of mistake.

Cav Daily Wins Alcohol Court Case

The Fourth Circuit Court has upheld The Cavalier Daily’s right to publish advertising for alcohol, the Associated Press reports. An Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulation (§ 3VAC5-20-40 (A)(2)) prohibits licensees from advertising in student newspapers:

Advertisements of alcoholic beverages are not allowed in college student publications unless in reference to a dining establishment, except as provided below. A “college student publication” is defined as any college or university publication that is prepared, edited or published primarily by students at such institution, is sanctioned as a curricular or extra-curricular activity by such institution and which is distributed or intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.

Both the Cav Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times sued, represented by the ACLU of Virginia, arguing that this served as an unconstitutional prohibition on free expression, and that it deprived them of much-needed revenue. (Both publications are independent, student-run publications, not funded by their respective universities.) It took years for the case to work its way through the court system, with a federal judge siding with the papers and the Supreme Court declining he case, but the 2–1 ruling by the Fourth Circuit may well be the end of things. The Office of the Attorney General says that they haven’t decided if they want to appeal the case back up to the Supreme Court.

In the court’s published opinion—which summarizes the very persuasive arguments in favor of the Cav Daily’s position, and the lousy arguments raised by the Virginia Attorney General’s office—Judge Stephanie Thacker finds that the prohibition does present an unconstitutional First Amendment restraint, and that it “prohibits large numbers
of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.”

In no small part because of a lack of advertising income, the Cav Daily is a substantially smaller newspaper than when this case first started, and comes out less frequently. They’ve moved their operations online substantially, in order to deal with this. The revenue from alcohol advertising could have served them well, and surely would have left them in better financial shape today. For all of the attorney general’s talk about eliminating burdensome regulations that make it tough to run a small business, he sure has fought hard in favor of keeping this regulation, and it’s been awfully tough on these two small businesses.

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