Thursday, May 12, 2005
Judge's pick for prosecutor on the job
But how long Stephanie Murray Shortt will be Floyd County's prosecutor will be decided by the Virginia Supreme Court.
In the battle over who will serve as Floyd County commonwealth's attorney while Gordon Hannett is deployed to Iraq in the Army Reserve, the score is Circuit Judge Ray Grubbs one, Hannett zero.
But who will ultimately win the legal fight that passed to the Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday is anybody's bet, says one law professor.
Cases like this are so rare, "If there were an expert, his a-- would be starving to death," said Roger Groot, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.
On Wednesday, Stephanie Murray Shortt, who Grubbs appointed last Thursday to replace Hannett while he is gone, prosecuted a full docket of cases in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
Meanwhile, Dennis Nagel, the Christiansburg attorney hired by Hannett to run the office in his absence, did not set foot in Floyd County.
But how long Murray Shortt will be prosecutor will be decided by the Virginia Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, Chris Kowalczuk, the Roanoke attorney representing Hannett, filed a petition asking the state justices to reinstate Hannett - though he'd run his office from Iraq.
The petition argues the judge overstepped his jurisdiction by appointing Murray Shortt. It also accuses the judge of threatening to replace Hannett if he did not hire one of three Floyd County attorneys, one of whom was Murray Shortt, as his assistant.
Grubbs could not be contacted Wednesday. Previously, he declined to comment about the situation.
Hannett hired Nagel three days before he left town on Sunday and planned to supervise by e-mail and telephone. Therefore, there was no empty position for the judge to fill, the petition argues.
The Supreme Court will either grant or deny Hannett's petition or hold a hearing on the case, said Kent Sinclair, a law professor at the University of Virginia, adding that nine out of 10 such petitions against a judge are denied.
For the Supreme Court to force Grubbs' hand, Hannett's petition would have to show that the judge "had gone on a rampage beyond the authorized jurisdiction," Sinclair said.
While the legal community in Montgomery and Floyd counties tried to keep up with the latest gossip about the case Wednesday afternoon, Hannett was on a bus heading to Indiana for training. He is slated to go to Iraq with his unit in August to train Iraqi National Army troops.
As the bus passed through Charleston, W.Va., Hannett had little to say about his chances of getting his job and paycheck back. "I guess we will just kind of wait and see," he said by cellphone.
On the winning side of the controversy for the time being, Murray Shortt said she is trying to forget about the legal fight and concentrate on her work.
She thinks the Floyd County prosecutor should live in the county, unlike Nagel, who planned to commute from Christiansburg. But that ultimately will be up to the Supreme Court, she said.
Murray Shortt said she has no idea how it will all turn out. But she does know she faces another full docket Thursday morning.