Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey L. Bryant III has personal and institutional reasons to be pleased with Tuesday’s ruling by the Virginia Court of Appeals that judges can defer findings of guilt only with the express approval of the General Assembly.
Bryant is the president of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Gibson v. Commonwealth “substantiates the position we have taken all along,” he said.
From a personal standpoint, it vindicates his insistence that Virginia Beach judges not defer judgment in drunken driving cases, as some of them have done. That insistence got him in trouble with the judges, who filed a complaint with the Virginia State Bar contending that he undermined the integrity of the legal system by accusing them of illegal conduct.
Bryant responded that the complaint overstated his comments to a Republican breakfast gathering but acknowledged that he had told the group that he thought judges were exceeding their authority in deferring judgment without legislative authority to do so. He also admitted that he has kept a record of instances in which judges have done so and suggested that he would make that record available when they come up for reappointment. The bar complaint remains under investigation.
He noted that Gibson is still subject to possible review by the full court of appeals or by the Supreme Court of Virginia. “I don’t suppose this is the end of it, but I hope we’re getting close to the end of it,” he said.
See Monday’s VLW for a fuller account of the opinion and the issue.