Bar complaint against Spencer dismissed
BY PORTSIA SMITH
The Virginia Supreme Court dismissed a misconduct complaint against Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tony Spencer on Friday and reversed an order by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.
“Upon consideration of the record, briefs and argument of counsel, the Court is of opinion that there is error in the order of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board,” the state Supreme Court said.
The 6th District Committee of the Virginia State Bar had issued a public admonition to Spencer for talking with an imprisoned defendant about a case without notifying the defendant’s lawyers about the discussion or offering to allow them to be present.
The committee, chaired by Spotsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bill Neely, determined that on April 3, 2008, Spencer went to the Rappahannock Regional Jail accompanied by a deputy and questioned Thomas Reynolds III about a civil case regarding a forged will and a criminal firearms charge.
An attorney for Virginia State Bar asked the justices in January to affirm the public admonition, saying that Spencer violated the rules regarding communications with persons represented by counsel.
Craig Cooley, who represented Spencer, said his client did talk to Reynolds, but the charges were referenced only to get more information about an unrelated case.
“There was never any discussion or mentioning of facts,” Cooley told the justices on Jan. 12. “The charge is there. He just told him, ‘If you talk to us on this unrelated matter, we may can help you [with the other charges].’’’
Cooley also argued that Spencer was not given proper notice of the violation so that he could respond to it.
On Spencer’s appeal to the Virginia State Bar, he argued that the misconduct for which he was admonished was different from the misconduct for which he was civilly charged.
At a hearing before the Disciplinary Board, counsel for Virginia State Bar acknowledged that Spencer had not been charged with communicating with the defendant, but said the misconduct charge itself gave Spencer adequate notice of the conduct he had to defend.
The Supreme Court ruled that: “In this case, the charge of misconduct against Spencer neither included the factual allegation that Spencer had discussed the pending criminal offense with the defendant, nor accused him of misconduct in that regard. For that reason, Spencer was not informed of the nature of the charge preferred against him and thus was not given the opportunity to defend himself against such charge.”
Spencer said Friday that he was relieved and ready to move on.
“Because I am an aggressive prosecutor, I am going to make some people unhappy. That is what happened in this case,” Spencer said. “I knew I had done nothing wrong, and it has taken almost four years to clear my name.”
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419