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Hopewell judge off the bench after prosecutor’s complaints

© 2012, Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Retired Hopewell General District Judge Kenneth W. Nye has stepped aside from hearing cases temporarily, according to his lawyer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Richard K. Newman wrote Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser a letter dated April 13, accusing Nye of conflicts of interest and other alleged misconduct. Although Nye retired two years ago, he has continued to sit in court regularly to make up for a judicial vacancy.

Kinser wrote Nye, advising him that she had received complaints about his service. She asked him not to sit until the complaints were resolved. He agreed to do so, said Hopewell attorney Peter D. Eliades, Nye’s lawyer. General District Court Clerk Deborah Hatcher said her office has been scheduling replacement judges in Nye’s absence.

Virginia Lawyers Weekly obtained a copy of Newman’s letter. When it was described to him – a four-page letter with 26 pages of exhibits – Newman said, “That sounds like the letter I sent” to the court. When provided a copy, he declined to further confirm or to deny that the letter was his.

He also said he would make no further comment.

Nye did not return calls for comment.

The prosecutor’s letter alleges Nye has a conflict of interest in hearing cases brought by the Hopewell Housing and Redevelopment Authority while operating a residential rental business, P&N LLC, that accepts public housing vouchers through the authority. The housing authority appears before him routinely for evictions and other actions.

The letter suggests there is at least an “appearance of impropriety.”

Hopewell’s controversial speed enforcement program also figures into Newman’s complaints. A band of city deputies monitors a short stretch of Interstate 295 and issues speeding tickets, as many as 1,000 a month. The targeted enforcement program was dubbed the “Million Dollar Mile” by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The tickets charge a violation of a Hopewell ordinance, which means the money goes to the city, not the state. Last month, Newman and Nye clashed in court when Newman moved to turn pending local speeding charges into state charges. The city gains about $2 million in annual revenue from speeding fines, so the potential loss of ticket money would have a large impact on the city’s finances. At the time, Newman asked Nye to recuse himself, but the judge rejected the recusal request and the move to amend the charges. The letter continues to assert a conflict of interest on Nye’s part.

According to Eliades, Kinser wrote to Nye and asked him to temporarily step aside while the court determined how to proceed. Nye wrote back on April 21, agreeing to abide by Kinser’s request, Eliades said.

Nye immediately arranged for a local attorney to handle his Monday docket as a substitute judge. The clerk has been working to schedule other substitutes to cover the general district court, Eliades said.

Nye retired in 2010. Courts across the commonwealth have been using retired and substitute judges to deal with judicial shortages.

Nye was on the list of retired judges subject to recall for judicial duties, according to Katya N. Herndon, spokesperson for the Supreme Court. On Feb. 19, the Supreme Court entered a 90-day order permitting local courts to call upon Nye for assistance without the need for a further designation order, said Herndon.

She declined further comment on Newman’s complaint and any response by the court.

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