Council won't pay Pelham's lawyer
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 26, 2013, 16:20
HOPEWELL — In a stalemate 3-3 vote Tuesday night, City Council decided that Councilor Brenda Pelham’s $15,000 in legal fees will not be paid by the city.
Councilor Wayne Walton made the motion to council to pay for Pelham’s legal fees, and it was seconded by Councilor Roosevelt Edwards. When it came time to have a roll call vote, Walton, Edwards and Councilor Jackie Shornak voted to not pay for her legal fees.
“I was really shocked because the council basically didn’t honor the word that another council had resolved to do,” Pelham said.
Pelham was referring to the resolution passed by City Council in June of 2011. The resolution states “Now, therefore be it resolved by the council of the city of Hopewell that it is the policy of this City Council to protect and defend the officers and employees of the City of Hopewell against criminal charges to the full extent contemplated by the Virginia General Assembly when it enacted Virginia Code 15.2-1521, and to that end, that the City reimburse Councilor Brenda Pelham’s reasonable legal fees and expenses upon her exoneration of these criminal charges.”
“When you make a resolution and you break that promise, does that mean that anyone can ever trust us to do anything,” Pelham said.
The criminal charges against Pelham were brought forth in May of 2011. She was indicted by a special grand jury on 13 misdemeanor counts. All 13 counts were that she had violated Virginia Code 2.2.-3112. This code states that an officer and employee of any state or local governmental or advisory agency be prohibited from participating in transactions that interfere with their personal interests and it is unlawful to knowingly fail to disclose as required either orally or in writing any conflict of interest that may arise in voting.
All 13 charges were separate instances where Pelham had voted in council on matters relating to the school system, of which she is an employee. As soon as the 13 indictments were brought before the court in September of 2011, 10 were immediately dismissed.
In the state of Virginia there is a statue of limitations for misdemeanors. A misdemeanor must be charged with 12 months of it’s alleged occurrence. Some of votes date back to 2006.
During that hearing, Pelham pleaded nolo contendere to the counts, a plea where the defendant addresses the charges made in the indictment by declining to dispute or admit to his or her guilt, and motion was made to continue the court case for another year. In that year’s time, if there were no further voting irregularities, then the remaining three counts would be dismissed. In September of 2012, Pelham appeared before the courts again and a motion was made to dismiss the charges, which the court granted.
“I just think I’ve been thrown to the wolves and I haven’t been protected as the resolution implied,” Pelham said.
In a letter to Pelham from the law firm that represented her, Eliades and Eliades, on Feb. 7, it is clear they had expected the city to pay for her fees as well.
“Although I cannot imagine why, if Council is concerned about reimbursement on the three charges that were carried over for a year, you could consider that they at least pay for the ten (10) charges that were dismissed on their merit at our initial hearing on September 7, 2011. That total would be $11,500.00($1,150 x 10 charges). Frankly, if Council was willing to pay $19,000.00 to a Richmond law firm to represent our former City Attorney on a baseless bar complaint, they should have no problem paying $15,000 to your attorneys for representing you on thirteen (13) misdemeanor charges that carried total exposure of 13 years in jail and $32,500.00 in fines.”
“I don’t understand why they, as members of the City Council, do they not have any integrity?” said Homer Eliades, of Eliades and Eliades, in the days following the vote. “Do they believe in following through when they have agreed to do something?”
Homer said he remains confused as to why Walton voted against paying the bill for Pelham. Contacts made with Walton were unsuccessful.
Though Pelham said she did learn something from the experience. She is regretful that her family had to go through this process with her.
“I hated my family had to go through it,” Pelham said, “That’s what I hate.”
While the court case and the vote is behind her, Pelham is not done yet.
“Yes, I am contemplating taking to another level,” Pelham said.