York County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eileen M. Addison accepted today a public reprimand from the Virginia State Bar for failing to acknowledge a tentative plea agreement with a key witness during a murder trial in April 2007.
That resolution of allegations that she had violated Rules of Professional Conduct had been pending since March 14, when Addison and her attorney had signed a proposed deal on the charges.
However, Deputy Bar Counsel Kathryn R. Montgomery told the VSB Disciplinary Board that Addison had refused to accept any dates the bar proposed for a hearing on the disposition. A hearing before the board on such agreed dispositions typically occurs via a telephone conference call within two weeks of when an agreement is signed, she said.
Montgomery said she began to suspect that Addison was not acting in good faith and that the failure to set a date was the result of political considerations. Addison is facing a challenge from Ben Hahn, her former deputy, in the Republican primary election on Aug. 23.
The Disciplinary Board finally set the date for a hearing on whether to accept the proposed disposition for today. Montgomery told the board she did not know whether Addison continued to support the agreement she had signed.
Addison’s attorney, Rodney G. Leffler of Fairfax, responded that Addison continues to insist there was no formal plea agreement reached with the witness until after he testified.
But, Leffler acknowledged, she now wishes she had stood up, approached the court and explained the circumstances of her office’s negotiations with the witness, who also had been charged in the murder.
“She does embrace the disposition and asks the board to impose it,” Leffler said.
After the board deliberated for about 20 minutes, Board Chairman Pleasant S. Brodnax III announced that it had accepted the agreement. “The respondent and her counsel have negotiated a very favorable disposition given the allegations in the certification” of the charges from a disciplinary committee, he added.
The disciplinary proceeding stemmed from the shooting death of Michael Tyler in May 2006.
He was shot as he approached a vehicle driven by Marquis Edwards with his cousin, Kwaume Edwards, in the front seat and Carlos Chapman in the back seat.
According to the bar’s disciplinary complaint, all three suspects were charged with murder, but Addison told Chapman’s attorney that the case against him probably could be resolved by misdemeanor charges, given Chapman’s minimal involvement and limited intelligence.
Chapman remained in jail on the murder counts, and his trial was continued several times in anticipation that he would testify against the other co-defendants.
Marquis Edwards ultimately entered an Alford plea to first-degree murder, even though Chapman had told authorities that Kwaume Edwards was the one who had actually shot Tyler and Addison had come to believe that Kwaume was primarily responsible for his death.
Chapman testified at Kwaume’s trial that he was the shooter before telling the jury under cross examination that he did not know hether his testimony would help his case.
The jury convicted Kwaume of second-degree murder, and Chapman later pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to murder and to use of a firearm in a felony. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail and released because he already had been in jail for that period of time.
Kwaume Edwards’ attorney, Michael Morchower, then filed a motion for a new trial based on Addison’s failure to disclose the understanding that had been reached with Chapman.
York Circuit Judge N. Prentis Smiley granted the motion, and a jury acquitted Edwards in his second trial. Chapman did not testify.
Addison faced ethical charges last year that she had coached a prosecution witness in the capital murder trial of Daryl Atkins in 1998. Smiley, who presided over the trial, commuted Atkins’ death penalty to life in prison after holding a hearing on the allegation.
However, a three-judge panel concluded that the VSB had not proved that Addison acted unethically in that case.