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No sanctions for ex-judge; bar dismisses charges

Jason Boleman//January 10, 2022

No sanctions for ex-judge; bar dismisses charges

Jason Boleman//January 10, 2022//

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A former Roanoke judge was not sanctioned after the Virginia State Bar dismissed charges of misconduct following a Dec. 17 hearing.

The ruling came after a 14-hour hearing that put former Roanoke Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge John Weber III’s relationship with a former client under the microscope. Weber returned to private practice in 2021 after resigning from the bench in January.

The five-member disciplinary panel, comprised of four attorneys and one layperson, ultimately ruled that the evidence presented did not meet the “clear and convincing” standard necessary for the misconduct charges to survive.

Weber was facing ethics charges from the bar related to $22,000 worth of payments Weber made to a former client, which the ex-client alleged were made to conceal a sexual relationship.

The existence of Weber’s payments to the client was undisputed during the hearing. At issue in the hearing was Weber’s motive, which differed in each side’s account.

According to the bar, bank records documented payments totaling $22,083.30 to the client or others on her behalf between 2018 and 2019, which were corroborated by Weber and the client.

However, according to the Roanoke Times, Weber testified that the money was motivated by charity after the client reached out to him for help in 2018, while Weber was a judge. Weber represented the client in 2013 and 2014 while in private practice.

Weber testified to the disciplinary panel that he had recently come into an inheritance and wanted to use the money to help others, including payments to help a family send their son to college and to help another man open an ultimately unsuccessful business.

Per the Roanoke Times, Weber testified that he “was happy to do it,” adding “I want to be a person who believes in people.”

As for the case at issue, Weber said the former client told him she was a new mother working to turn her life around but was facing homelessness. Weber said he subsequently sent her about $11,000 over a three-month span for rent and other various living expenses.

Weber’s attorneys argued that the troubles began when Weber tried to end the aid, and the client threatened to go public with sexual misconduct allegations unless the payments resumed.

Weber never reported the alleged threats and paid her $11,000 over another five-month period. The payments ended with a $1,000 payment in July 2019, according to a document from the VSB.

Asked why he never reported the threats, Weber testified that he became fearful for his job, family and reputation and believed nobody would think the money he gave was an act of charity.

“I hoped it would go away,” Weber testified. “It was a bad choice.”

In his answer to the bar charges, Weber denied allegations that “as a practicing lawyer or at any other time he solicited for and/or engaged in a sexual relationship” with the client. During the hearing, Weber continued to deny the allegation, stating there had never been an inappropriate or intimate relationship with the client.

In March 2020, the former client reported the matter to police, according to the VSB. She reportedly told the bar that her decision to come forward was due to concerns about Weber holding the position of a JDR judge after he “took advantage of her.”

The Roanoke Times reported that in her testimony to the disciplinary panel, the client said she was honest with authorities, that she was scared and struggling when Weber represented her, and alleged that Weber exploited that to begin a physical relationship.

“I told you the truth today no matter how it makes me look,” the client testified.

At issue in the hearing were 4,826 text messages exchanged between Weber and the client in 2019, which were pulled from Weber’s cellphone records. The text messages reflected the client’s requests, pleas and demands for money in exchange for her silence, according to the bar.

Disciplinary office counsel said the text messages showed Weber demanding the client bring an old cellphone that the client claimed had incriminating messages from when Weber represented her, which the bar stated was turned over to Weber following the July 2019 payment.

Weber’s attorneys claimed the messages supported the case that the financial help began altruistically and showed Weber seeking updates about her personal progress. Weber also stated that while he knew no incriminating messages existed, he worried evidence could be fabricated.

Despite the ruling, the Roanoke Times reported that the panel expressed concern that Weber, as a sitting judge, did not report that he was being threatened, adding that the panel “had a lot of trouble with this case.”

The VSB was represented by Bar Counsel Renu M. Brennan, who declined to comment.

Weber was represented by Roanoke attorneys John E. Lichtenstein and Anthony F. Anderson.

“Following trial, the Bar ruled in Mr. Weber’s favor and dismissed all allegations against him. We acknowledge and respectfully disagree with the sentiments expressed in the dissent,” Lichtenstein and Anderson said in a statement. “We are most pleased that Mr. Weber will have the opportunity to return to the practice of law through which he has and will again help so many.”

Clarification: This story previously reported that the ruling from the five-member disciplinary panel was unanimous. However, one member of the panel dissented from the majority. The story has been clarified to make that distinction. 

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