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Abbott pleads not guilty; judge will decide case

by Tom Chillemi

For the first time, former Middlesex Sheriff Guy Abbott will get to see evidence that was presented to a special grand jury which, in 2011, indicted Abbott on 25 felonies involving embezzlement and bribery allegedly committed while he was sheriff.

Following a brief pre-trial hearing on Monday, February 27, Abbott’s attorney, Craig Cooley of Richmond, left Middlesex Circuit Court with a large box filled with hundreds of documents from the grand jury.

Retired judge Paul F. Sheridan signed the order releasing all the grand jury documents, which had been sealed, to Abbott and his attorney.

The grand jury information is needed, Cooley said, because while Abbott understands the charges, he does not know how they arose and the specific details.

For clarification, Judge Sheridan stated to Abbott, “You understand what they claim, and I hear you saying, you are in great disagreement with that.”

Abbott answered, “Yes.”

Also on Monday, Abbott, through his attorney, waived the reading of the 25 indictments and entered a plea of not guilty.

In August 2011, a special grand jury returned 25 felony indictments against Abbott as the result of a Virginia State Police investigation authorized by the Virginia Attorney General on November 3, 2009.

The charges allege 18 counts of misuse or misappropriation of public assets, four counts of embezzlement, and three counts of bribery.

On January 3, 2012, Cooley filed a motion for a bill of particulars seeking information from the prosecutor on the “specific funds alleged to have been misused, etc., and the specific acts or transactions which are alleged to be misuses or misappropriations for each count.”

The motion also seeks the “identity of the person/entity that defendant Abbott is alleged to have solicited and the decision, opinion, recommendation, or other exercise of discretion he is alleged to have made or offered to make” in each of three counts of bribery.

With the order signed releasing the grand jury documents, Judge Sheridan said he would not rule on the bill of particulars motion, which is now moot.

Abbott also waived his right to a jury trial and will have the case heard by Judge Sheridan.

Assistant Virginia Attorney General Shannon Dion, and Judge Sheridan agreed with Abbott’s motion for a bench trial. A bench trial is one that is decided by a judge, not a jury. In Virginia, the defendant, prosecution or judge can demand a jury trial. In Abbott’s case all three parties agreed to a bench trial.

Dion told the court that she would reserve the right to file a motion for a change of venue (to move the trial to another court outside of Middlesex), if Abbott were to withdraw his request for a bench trial and then ask for a jury trial.

Cooley responded that he did not anticipate a change in Abbott’s jury trial waiver.

Abbott also waived his right to a speedy trial. The provision would have left a deadline of May 24 for the trial, said Dion, who is assisted by Ann R. Gregory, also an assistant Virginia Attorney General.

The court set a trial date for August 9, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. Attorneys indicated the trial should take four to six days. Dion told the court she plans to call 24 witnesses and that four or five witnesses could each testify for half a day.

Judge Sheridan set July 16 at noon to hear pre-trial motions. He directed attorneys to exchange written motions by July 6, and to submit them to him by July 12.

Abbott, 55, served three terms as Middlesex Sheriff from 2000 through 2011. He lost the 2011 election.

Judge Sheridan said the record should reflect that the Virginia State Police is providing courtroom security, and that this change is no reflection on the local deputies, bailiffs or personnel that usually handle security.

Middlesex Circuit Court Judge R. Bruce Long recused himself from the case against Abbott.

Judge Sheridan is a retired Arlington County Circuit Court Judge.

The Attorney General’s Office was appointed to prosecute Abbott after Middlesex Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael T. Hurd recused himself and asked the circuit court for a special prosecutor.

posted 02.29.2012

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