A Culpeper County employee who successfully sued the county commonwealth’s attorney for assault and battery could lose his district court victory because he doesn’t have the money to pursue his appeal in circuit court.
In the case involving lame-duck Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick, a judge could decide that her accuser now must either take his claims to trial or fold his tent and get nothing.
Frederick’s lawyers argue IT specialist Todd Frazier has lost his chance to drop his appeal and still get the benefit of the $1,500 judgment he won in general district court.
The tangled case arose from an early controversy in Frederick’s troubled term as top county prosecutor.
Elected in 2012 after campaigning against those she labelled “good ol’ boys” in the county courthouse, Frederick did not enjoy smooth relationships with local law enforcement.
When she announced someone had broken into her office and left a threatening note, the sheriff arranged for a county computer specialist to remove access to criminal records from computers in the prosecutor’s office.
The sheriff expressed concern that Frederick had reported the alleged break-in to the media but not to him.
During that removal process in 2013, Frazier – the IT specialist – claimed Frederick grabbed him and yanked him around. He conceded he suffered no physical injury, according to court pleadings.
Frazier sued in Culpeper County General District Court, demanding $25,000 for assault and battery. Frazier claimed emotional damages from a criminal investigation undertaken by Frederick and sought punitive damages as well.
The case came to trial in August and retired Judge Charles B. Foley awarded Frazier $1,500.
The procedural maneuvers that followed set up the current dispute.
Frederick appealed the verdict, defending her behavior in the incident.
In a court filing, Frederick denied she ever touched Frazier or “engaged in any unlawful action of any kind.”
Frazier also appealed, contending the award was too low.
Frederick did not perfect her appeal by paying the required appeal bond, but Frazier did pay the prescribed costs and established a case in circuit court.
In October, Frazier evidently decided he could not afford a circuit court trial of the case and signaled he intended to withdraw his appeal. He asked the judge to enter judgment in accord with the judgment of the district court.
Not so fast, Frederick’s lawyers responded.
In a Nov. 11 filing, Frederick objected to Frazier’s plan to drop his appeal.
She pointed to Va. Code § 16.1-106.1 governing withdrawal of appeals in district court civil cases. The statute provides for a hearing to determine if there is “good cause” to refuse the withdrawal of an appeal.
The burden is on the objecting party – Frederick, in this case.
Her lawyers argued the “good cause” standard is not a high hurdle and said she has incurred “significant inconvenience and expense” because of Frazier’s delay in announcing his change of plan.
“For Frazier to obtain the benefit of his $1,500 judgment in the trial court after having subjected Frederick to these additional proceedings would be unfair and unjust,” wrote Frederick’s attorneys.
The case should proceed to trial in June, she contended. In the alternative, Frazier could take a nonsuit, a voluntary dismissal, she said.
Frederick was outpolled in November by former county assistant prosecutor Paul R. Walther, the interim incumbent she ousted to win office in 2012. Walther will take office in January.
Frederick is represented by William W. Tunner and Michael G. Matheson of Richmond. The lawyers declined comment beyond their pleadings.
Frazier is represented by Michael Winget-Hernandez of Troy. He said Frazier maintained his appeal in circuit court because the parties were – and still are – engaged in settlement negotiations.
He said Frederick can easily oppose Frazier’s withdrawal bid, since her lawyers are paid through a state risk management plan.
“But we are confident that the Court will adhere to the statute’s requirement that such an objection be supported by good cause, which doesn’t exist here, mainly because Frederick has suffered no harm in the delay,” Winget-Hernandez said.
No hearing has been set on the appeal withdrawal issue. Louisa County Circuit Judge Timothy K. Sanner was appointed to hear the case. A two-day trial is set for June 9 if the appeal goes forward.