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Court turns tables, jails complaining mom for contempt

A trial court turned the tables on a mother who claimed a father violated a protective order, and jailed the mother for lying to the court. The father foiled the mother’s attempt to have him punished by secretly videotaping his pickup of their child for visitation.

The mother landed in jail for contempt after an Arlington County Circuit Court heard evidence about the father’s conduct when he picked up their son at a local fast-food restaurant. On Aug. 7, a divided panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the contempt finding in an unpublished opinion.

A trial court entered the protective order against Antonio Amos after he was convicted of assault and battery in 2010. The protective order restricted the father’s contact with the mother to visitation exchanges.

Later that year, the mother, Felecia Amos, wrote to the commonwealth’s attorney complaining about the father’s harassment on two separate occasions. She said Antonio had repeatedly cursed and threatened her, that she had to be escorted to her car for her own protection, and that Antonio had followed her in his vehicle after she left the restaurant with their son.

When the parents appeared on a show cause order, the mother repeated her claims about the father’s conduct. The father, who was a retired U.S. Army Colonel, had a buddy along for the drop-offs, and he supported Antonio’s testimony that he did not speak to, curse at, threaten or follow the mother during the visitation exchanges.

Antonio also had audiovisual aids for the court. He had videotaped one of the exchanges with a camera mounted to his dashboard. He had “wired” himself prior to the other disputed exchange and played the audio recording for the trial court.

Retired Circuit Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick dismissed the show cause order and held Felecia in summary contempt because she had “flat-out lied under oath.” He ordered her to jail for 10 days, and she made no objection.

Upholding the trial court, Chief Judge Walter Felton Jr. said the “ends of justice” exception did not warrant appellate relief when the mother didn’t object in the trial court.

But Judge Stephen R. McCullough dissented, even though he understood why the trial court wanted to take action in “the face of testimony that reeks of perjury.”

McCullough said the record showed the mother didn’t really have a chance to object when the trial judge scolded her and then immediately remanded her into custody. He also disagreed about the procedural bar. The mother appeared as a witness, not a party, and Rule 5A:18 assumes the procedural bar applies to attorneys and pro se litigants, but not to a witness, he said.
–Deborah Elkins

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