A Roanoke juvenile and domestic relations judge who quietly stepped down from the bench this year had been making payments to a former client to conceal a sexual relationship, according to charges brought by the Virginia State Bar.
The former judge, who is now in private practice in the Roanoke area, denies the allegations of sex with a client, saying he paid thousands of dollars to the ex-client only to help her through a financial crisis.
John Weber III gave no explanation for his resignation from the bench in January, according to a published report at the time. He returned to active status with the VSB in April and resumed his law practice, according to the VSB and his LinkedIn page.
According to ethics charges filed with the VSB Disciplinary Board, Weber’s former client told the bar she engaged in sexual acts with Weber during the course of his representation in 2013-14 and was later paid more than $22,000 by him. The payments were made, at least in part, to keep the client from disclosing their sexual relationship, the client told the VSB.
Bank records documented payments of $22,083.30 to the client or others on her behalf in 2018 and 2019, the bar alleges. Both the client and Weber corroborate the payments, the bar said.
The allegations are bolstered by text messages and emails provided by the former client, the bar said. In 2019, Weber and the ex-client exchanged 4,826 text messages reflecting the client’s continued requests, pleas and demands for money in exchange for her not disclosing their sexual relationship during her legal representation, the bar alleges. The VSB document cites numerous text messages from February to April of 2019.
Weber had a private law practice in Roanoke from 1993 until he was selected as a JDR judge by the General Assembly in 2015. The payments to the former client came in 2018 and 2019 while Weber was a JDR judge, the bar alleges.
Weber’s payments ended in July 2019 after he paid the woman $1,000 and she turned over her cellphone containing records of their communications to him, the VSB document states.
The former client reported the matter to police in March 2020, the bar said. She reportedly told the bar she came forward because she had concerns about Weber holding the position of a JDR judge after he “took advantage of her.”
Weber “categorically denies the allegation that as a practicing lawyer or at any other time he solicited for and/or engaged in a sexual relationship” with the client, Weber said in his answer to the bar charges.
The client “used then-Judge Weber’s generosity to paralyze him with the threat of spreading false accusations and the claim that no one would believe he would have helped her simply out of the kindness of his heart,” the answer said.
A VSB discipline subcommittee contends Weber’s actions violated the rule on conflicts of interest as well as the rule against criminal or deliberately wrongful acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice.
The VSB Disciplinary Board is scheduled to hear the case in Richmond on Dec. 17. The VSB is represented by Bar Counsel Renu M. Brennan. Weber is represented by Roanoke attorneys John E. Lichtenstein and Anthony F. Anderson.
The Supreme Court of Virginia in July rejected a VSB proposal to make it an ethical violation for a lawyer to have sexual relations with a client unless the personal relationship predated the client relationship. The court gave no reason for rejecting the VSB’s proposal. The VSB has charged lawyers with conflict of interest in cases of sexual relationships with clients.