Woman Wrongly Jailed for a Month

Dave Norris' Swearing InFrom the “What The?!” files comes the story of Jennifer Dowell White, who was held in the jail for a month for no apparent reason, Lisa Provence reports for The Hook. She appeared before a city grand jury on August 20, who was considering indicting her for obtaining money under false pretenses, but they decided not to. Nonetheless, she was held in jail until just yesterday, the apparent fault of Charlottesville Clerk Paul Garrett. Her attorney had repeatedly requested a copy of the indictment that would presumably be required to keep White in jail, but Garrett wouldn’t send it — the paperwork had apparently been lost in his office. Garrett declined comment.

Garrett was last in the news back in April, when he was caught obtaining $52,000 from the state by lying about getting his office’s records online. Garrett, a Democrat, was most recently reelected in 2003.

9:30pm Update: I see that Henry Graff reported on this for NBC 29 and did get a comment out of Paul Garrett. He said that he wasn’t necessarily the obstacle, that “there are various ways that could have been addressed,” though not knowing anything about the legal system, it’s all greek to me.

19 thoughts on “Woman Wrongly Jailed for a Month”

  1. I like Paul Garrett. I’ve volunteered for his campaigns in the past. But if this is true, he should retire right away. It’s a tough job he’s got. I certainly couldn’t do it.

  2. I am puzzled by the story the Daily Progress today where Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman defended Paul Garrett and blamed Ms. White’s attorney for her extra month in jail. If I was languishing in jail mistakenly, I would definitely want my attorney to get me out ASAP. But why does this responsibility rest only with the defense attorney? Jailing people who shouldn’t be jailed isn’t just wrong, it’s incredibly expensive. Who is looking out for the taxpayers interest here? Wouldn’t that have to be the job of the Clerk?

  3. With all this finger-pointing and obfuscation it would be nice if someone who knows the city courts would explain what the hell happened here.

  4. Lazy, arrogant, dismissive, incompetent and really just an all around jerk. I believe that about sums it up

  5. I can’t for the life of me understand what the hell happened here. I practice routinely in Charlottesville Circuit Court, as a defense lawyer. My understanding is that Mr. Garrett knew there was a no bill returned by the grand jury, and yet didn’t do anything about it. What seems to be getting lost here is that once the grand jury no bills a case, the case is over. Not just put off for some later time, but it is over, dismissed, done. She should have been released immediately. As for those that say that the PD’s office should have found this out earlier and done something about it, well, they (like I am) are at the mercy of the clerk’s office. As soon as the grand jury made its report to the court, the clerk (and the judge) should have taken steps immediately to notify everyone involved. The article makes it sound like the defendant actually appeared at the grand jury — she didn’t. She was sitting in jail, and the only witness(es) before the grand jury were the Commonwealth’s. Maybe I am not so smart, but the notion that she is out on bond for an offense that has been no billed by the grand jury is outrageous. Whatever Mr. Chapman (and I like and respect him, very much) is going to do, there is no pending charge against her.

    Awful — I am terrified this will happen to one of my clients. Lesson learned.

  6. This appears to be just another notch in the bedpost of incompetence for Paul Garrett. Maybe he was too busy trying to fix those falsified grant records for online records to pay any attention to the Grand Jury docket that day. What shocks me the most is that Dave Chapmen would come to his defense and condone such negligence and malfeasance of office. Just as with the falsified grant records….this will make one headline and go away for Garrett. Typical politics in the City. It is very wrong and sad that this is allowed to continue. But judicial incompetence appears to be a bipartisan effort….just take a look as Jim Camblos’ record in the County.

  7. WT, I think you understand what happened here. No True Bill was announced and no one forced Paul to do anything. He is as lazy as they come and he just figured that since no one showed him a code requiring him to act he did what he does best, nothing. Do you think he cares for one minute that a person(s) have spent needless days in jail thanks to him. NO, he is more concerned with shifting the blame and protecting his arrogant little kingdom. How many times have you had to search for something in the clerk’s office, waited on an order or otherwise gotten good service there? Now this does not excuse Chapman, that is the odd thing here

  8. Steve==

    here’s what I think–Dave Chapman, conscience-stricken, decides to defend Garrett, but not being honorable enough to accept the blame himself, points his fingers at the public defender office, KNOWING that it’s his own fault. Defense attorneys don’t wait around all day in court for when the grand jury is finished with their deliberations! But HE knows which ones came back no true bill–or he should, since he’s the one who submitted them.

    And, Garrett has no authority for sealing indictments. Only the Commonwealth can ask the judge for them to be sealed, and they have to show good cause. So, when Garrett keeps the indictments in a locked drawer, not letting attorneys look at the indictments of THEIR CLIENTS, he is acting outside his legal authority.

    In any case, you could say the problem with Garrett is not ultimately his fault–it’s the Virginia system of electing court clerks. This should be an appointed position, not an elected one–because the public has no way to know whether a court clerk is doing his or her job properly, so the clerk is not accountable to the public. and, no way in hell should it be an eight-year term. You get one incompetent guy, and a party that supports him, and then you’re stuck with incompetence for at least 8 years, or maybe 16, 24…

    There’s no sense in closing ranks behind an incompetent just because he’s a member of your party. Then it just looks like your party supports incompetence. That’s the republican way, Mr. Chapman… show your democratic colors and let the guy take his lumps!

  9. Chapman is a good guy, and for him to go partisan and back Garrett is a BAD move on his part. Folks, that clerks office is a troublesome place of late and Garrett is bordering on incompetent with a healthy dose of arrogance thrown in, a dangerous combination.

    Next thing you know the Attorney Generals Office will be here to sort out the mess. You heard it here first.

  10. I hope so Jepper I find it odd that we never heard of any investigaiton coming out of the 52K the state took back because Paul falsely certifed some forms. Look, if you sign someone elses name to a seeding ticket it is a felony. Odd.

  11. I’d like to try to clear the air with a factual account of what I know about the case of the missing paperwork. To be sure, this is my own perspective, so if you are reading this, please judge accordingly.

    What does the public defender office, or any other defense counsel, expect of the clerk when it comes to filing bills of indictment returned by the grand jury? We expect the clerk to give us prompt access to the indictments of our clients. These are public documents. Just by way of comparison, in Albemarle County the clerk’s office routinely makes copies of indictments available for public inspection by the next day after the grand jury meets. It’s not that hard to do.

    Here’s what happened in Jennifer White’s case. Within a day or so after the indictment was given to the clerk on August 20 to be filed, staff from the public defender office went to the clerk’s office and asked to see the indictment. The staff person was told the indictment was not available for her to see. Despite several verbal requests over the course of the following days, the clerk refused to permit the staff person to see the indictment. This continuing refusal prompted the Deputy Public Defender on September 6 to make a formal written request to see the indictment. The written request and several follow-up contacts with the clerk’s office produced no response until late afternoon, September 21, when Paul Garrett told a secretary from my office that the grand jury had marked the indictment “not a true bill,” meaning the evidence was insufficient for the case to go forward. The secretary had gone to the clerk’s office again on September 21 trying to see the indictment. Paul Garrett did not let the secretary see the indictment on September 21.

    After returning from the clerk’s office to the public defender office, the secretary immediately reported this information to Ms. White’s attorney, Valerie L’Herrou, who immediately told me. Valerie and I left immediately for the clerk’s office to get a copy of the indictment. It was clear we needed to take action to get Ms. White released from jail, but we needed the written document itself, and not just what Paul Garrett said about it, before we could proceed in court.

    An assistant clerk was unable to locate the indictment when I asked to see it. At my request, the assistant clerk then asked Paul Garrett to tell me where the indictment was. Paul was stumped. I observed him pulling out file drawers and looking on his assistants’ desks for the missing indictment. He even went upstairs to the judge’s chambers to see if perhaps the judge had snatched the indictment out of the clerk’s office. The indictment was not in the judge’s chambers. Finally, after about 20 minutes, Paul located the indictment and we were given a copy.

    As reported in the Daily Progress (9/27/07), here is Paul’s explanation for why the indictment was not in the case file, where it should have been. “Garrett said he didn’t add the grand jury’s decision in White’s case to her case file, instead holding it with other, sealed indictments that hadn’t yet been served.” There is no justification or legal authority for a court clerk to block public access to an unsealed indictment, much less to hold the indictment back from counsel of record in the case.

    As reported in the Daily Progress (9/27/07), Charlottesville prosecutor Dave Chapman defended Paul Garrett’s handling of the case, and blamed the public defender office for not being in court on August 20 when the grand jury noted its decisions and gave the indictments to the court to be filed. Chapman, who was in court when the grand jury wrapped up on August 20, said “they [the public defender office] can find out just as quickly as I can” what the grand jury did. It is important to note, however, that despite being in court on August 20, Chapman didn’t find out until September 21, when I called him, that the grand jury had found the evidence insufficient to proceed in Jennifer White’s case. Obviously, being in court when the grand jury finishes its session is not the solution to the problem.

    This brings me back to where I started. All we ask is for the clerk to give defense counsel prompt access to the indictments of the clients we represent. We don’t ask the clerk to send us copies. Instead, we go to the clerk’s office to see the indictments. We get the indictments out of our clients’ public files, so long as the clerk has filed the indictments where they belong. We make the copies ourselves. Other than knowing where public records entrusted to the clerk’s office for safekeeping can be found, very little is asked of the clerk. Judge for yourself if we are asking too much of Paul Garrett in cases where the liberty of people like Jennifer White is at stake.

  12. “Then it just looks like your party supports incompetence. That’s the republican way, Mr. Chapman… show your democratic colors and let the guy take his lumps!”

    Jesus freaking Christ Pauline, have you paid any attention to City Council for the past several years?

    Council and the local democratic machine that put them there are ultimately the root of the widespread problem of general incompetence and lack of accountability throughout the City administration. Democrats, democrats, and more democrats, and not a worthy soul among them for years. I’m a lifelong democrat, but I couldn’t in good conscience vote for any of the current bunch, the clerk or the council.

    Sadly, the choice aren’t that great for the upcoming election but voting does make far more difference than blog posting. This city badly needs people to get off of their asses to disrupt the machine and vote for change. But… uhm, not the sort that Kevin Lynch promised and never delivered on. With Lynch, Brown, and Hamilton out of the way, maybe Kleeman and Huja can still do something before it’s too late.

  13. Don,

    What does your comment have to do with the subject? Nothing. You are ranting away on a topic totally unrelated to the issue. City Council did not appoint Paul Garrett and City Council had nothing to do with this matter.

    It’s like one of those Lyndon LaRouche people who shout the same nonsense at every forum no matter what it being discussed.

    As for the merits of your statements, Charlottesville did not become one of the best places to live in America by chance. It happened through steady work and improvement over the last 20 years or so. Under constant Democratic party leadership. If you think that things are actually bad here, I think you’re spoiled. Spend a couple of weeks in nearly any other city of our size in America and compare the overall quality of life. I’ve got my own gripes about property taxes, parking plans and other issues in Charlottesville. But we’re still way in front overall.

  14. Jack, I guess you missed that I was responding to someone named Pauline who wrote the following: “There’s no sense in closing ranks behind an incompetent just because he’s a member of your party. Then it just looks like your party supports incompetence. That’s the republican way, Mr. Chapman… show your democratic colors and let the guy take his lumps!”

    I think Pauline is mistaken in her suggestion that Republicans have some sort of monopoly on the brand of foolishness that would cause them to support incompetents in their party merely for the sake of the party. Both Paul Garrett and Charlottesville’s City council serve as excellent demonstrations of the fact that it is not necessary to be competent to gain the backing of the local Democratic Party, it is merely necessary to be willing to run and to be connected. Support of the type Pauline decries then routinely seems to take care of the rest.

    As for the merits of your statements, Charlottesville is great largely because it has a great university which attracts highly intelligent, energetic, creative, and let’s not forget, well heeled students. Of course, there are also the faculty and staff of the university a significant bunch of which are also highly intelligent, energetic, creative, and/or very well paid. All of those people and the excitement and cultural opportunities associated with living near a top rank university have lured a lot of other people to move here. Don’t forget that Charlottesville is close to D.C. without the traffic(yet) and quite a lovely little place and that helps too.

    Money and interesting people are what have made Charlottesville great. That is despite, not because of, a near stranglehold on power in the city by a firmly entrenched, smug, not to mention pathologically uncreative Democratic Party.

    I would love to see Garrett go, but that probably won’t happen until his term is up at the earliest. The Garret situation isn’t the problem though, it is merely a symptom of a far deeper problem and one which will require a radical retooling on a more fundamental level if Charlottesville is going to remain great. Long term control by a single party of everything in the city is demonstrably not a healthy thing. Iincompetence runs rampant throughout the city administration, not just the Clerk’s Office.

    Rejecting all of the party’s chosen in the upcoming election would be the most direct way to start the retooling process but sadly, the best we can do is to reject two. I prefer a small step forward to none though. Independent wins might spur the local Republicans to action. I don’t want them to win of course, I just want them to make the Democrats have to run decent candidates that I can be comfortable voting for. That means no more Paul Garretts and the like.

  15. F Y I I was told by the attorny general of Va that he has NO control over commonwealth attornys. I was complaing about the incompetence Jim Camblos. The commonwealth attorny only answers to the voters. I have checked other places and he is right.

  16. If I had a lawyer that knew I may be indicted on criminal charges, I would hope she would wonder where I was in less than 18 days after the hearing. The client was easy to find, either she was at home or in jail. If anyone is looking for incompetence, look no further than right around the corner of the Clerk’s office at the Public Defender’s office. He just might find it. Geez. I wonder how many critics would like to have the P. D. office defend him? I certainly wouldn’t.

  17. Paul Garrett, I mean Cville Eye, glad you found your way to this blog, I missed you. Don’t worry, you are not the only incompetent elected official in the City Court House. The Sheriff is also just plain awful. Why has a local weekly not picked up on the fact that she has been working at her husband’s tobacco shop during the week when she was supposed to be at work in the Court House?

    Paul, why do you continue to blame the PD’s Office, Magistrate’s Office, Liberal Media etc for your failings? It is just sad,

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