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Two lawyers cleared of contempt

The Supreme Court of Virginia today exonerated two Hampton Roads lawyers held in contempt for presuming that Norfolk Circuit Judge Chuck Griffith would grant continuances in their clients’ criminal trials.

Both lawyers – Ken Singleton and Gordon Zedd – arranged with the prosecutor’s office for the criminal trials to be postponed.  Both lawyers then told their clients to stay home.  One of the lawyers himself failed to show on the scheduled trial date.

“[N]othing in either record suggests an intent on the part of the two attorneys ‘to obstruct or interrupt the administration of justice,’” the court holds today in Singleton v. Commonwealth.  Contempt convictions imposed by Griffith now are reversed and vacated.

The court takes the opportunity to caution the bar about such presumption, however:

Undoubtedly, the better practice would dictate that until the trial court enters a continuance order, the defense attorney should appear in court on the date scheduled for trial with his or her client and request the continuance. Similarly, the attorney for the Commonwealth should appear in court and not excuse its witnesses in anticipation that the trial court will grant a mutual request for a continuance.

By Peter Vieth

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