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Bias claim denied
Judge sides with Ziglar on Harrold claims
Sunday, July 21, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
A local judge on Friday denied an attorney’s claim that Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar had a policy that was biased against the attorney and that she should be removed from office.
Attorney Perry Harrold claimed that Ziglar’s policy against communicating with him verbally was prejudiced and biased, that his clients were treated differently than those of other attorneys and that it impacted his ability to do his job.
He asked Circuit Court Judge Carter Greer to change the policy, remove Ziglar from office and appoint another prosecutor to work with him.
However, Greer decided in Ziglar’s favor after hearing testimony from some of the 28 witnesses subpoenaed — mainly other attorneys and law enforcement officers.
Ziglar testified that she enacted a “no oral communications policy” for Harrold “because you (Harrold) tell lies about what is said when we meet.”
Harrold told the court: “I stand on my reputation in this community.”
Ziglar testified that she has used the same no verbal communication policy in the past with other attorneys when needed. Harrold, however, alleged the policy was used only on him, and only because Ziglar became angry with him.
Among other things, Ziglar said Harrold had claimed her office offered plea agreements to his clients but then did not follow through on them.
She cited one instance in which she offered one of Harrold’s clients an agreement, and she reminded Harrold that he “refused to even ask your client about the agreement,” Ziglar testified. As a result, “I pulled it (offer) off the table.”
Ziglar testified that Harrold tried to get her assistants to make deals with his clients even though he is aware that any offer of an agreement must be made by her.
“If I could trust you, I wouldn’t have this (no verbal communications) policy in place,” Ziglar said.
Harrold said he had apologized in the past for some of his behavior.
Ziglar concurred, and testified that in a recorded apology on her home phone, Harrold said he “acted like a damned fool.”
Harrold recalled that Ziglar objected to his request to continue a case when he was bedridden with the flu. Ziglar said she saw him working in his office, and that she also had concerns related to ensuring a speedy trial in that case.
Deputy Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Don Goodman testified that Harrold also had called him a liar, most recently at a bond hearing for Harrold’s client. Goodman read an excerpt that Harrold had written to Goodman about Goodman’s “aversion to being truthful.” Goodman said that Harrold also called him a liar in the judge’s chamber on June 17.
Goodman also testified that Harrold had said he was similar to “Hitler’s surrogates” because Goodman would not offer agreements to Harrold’s clients.
“Ninety five percent of the time, we get along fine,” Goodman testified of himself and Harrold. The remaining “5 percent is the rub.”
Other witnesses included former employees in Ziglar’s office, such as Les Fleet, now a deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Appomattox County, and attorneys Clay Gravely and Andrew Hall.
Gravely, who is challenging Ziglar in the November election, recalled that Harrold got in his face once while in court. A bailiff intervened, Gravely said, adding that had never happened to him before.
Gravely also testified that clients were not treated differently depending on their attorney when he worked for Ziglar.
Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers and officers Dawn Vaughn, Greg Johnston and Mike Pace also testified, as did attorney Robert Williams and Karen Walker, who is Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday’s secretary.
“I’m here because I truly believe the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is prejudiced and biased against me,” Harrold said. Ziglar has “taken the stand, taken the oath and called me a liar. She says I can’t be trusted.”
Harrold said he has practiced law for 39 years, including the 30 years he has spent in Martinsville.
“I am not known to be a liar or someone who can’t be trusted,” he said. “I’m not a monster, judge. I’m not a liar.”
Harrold also said he is willing to take the issue “to the people. Start a petition drive to get this (no oral communications) policy off me because I don’t think it’s fair.”
Greer said the policy is Ziglar’s prerogative, and “as this court sees it, the court has no authority to negate or nullify any policy enacted by Ms. Ziglar.”
The judge also said he heard no evidence to support Harrold’s assertion that the policy is directed toward him personally.
In closing, Greer said, “this court deeply regrets that your relationship has come to this point, because the court holds both of you in high regard.”