Courtroom contretemps: Client says former mayor throttled him

buck-smallAttorney Frank Buck served as Charlottesville mayor from 1980-'88.


The case has been continued to December 13 at 9:05am as Buck's deep ties to the legal community have led Charlottesville District Court Judge Bob Downer to consider recusing himself. Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman says he has requested that a special prosecutor be appointed in the case.

–Updated Friday, November 19 at 1:56pm

Original story:

Lots of people have imagined throttling someone. Attorney and former Charlottesville mayor Frank Buck may have acted on the impulse.

Buck was arrested on Thursday, November 11, and charged with misdemeanor assault for his role in a day-earlier incident that his legal client and alleged victim, Milton Leo John, calls "outrageous."

According to John, a 53-year-old airline pilot, the judge and bailiffs had stepped out of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on a recess when his attorney, Buck, began to discuss a week-earlier hearing. The topic was an old domestic abuse charge that, John says, was dismissed shortly after it was lodged and which should have already been expunged. John says he was calmly expressing his frustration over Buck's alleged failure to press his case and presented a letter he'd sent Buck showing that he'd made the expungement request several years earlier.

John, who stands 5'7" and weighs 160 pounds, says he began reading from the letter when his 6-foot-tall, 230-pound attorney suddenly and unexpectedly went berzerk.

"Mr. Buck became agitated and verbally abusive towards me," John writes in the criminal complaint. "He then abruptly stood up, and physically grabbed me around my neck with both hands and squeezed."

Buck admits to touching his client's neck–- but disputes much of the rest of John's account.

"He starts claiming I haven't done anything for him, that I'm taking advantage of him," says Buck, adding that his three- or four-year representation of John has been marked by unpaid bills and a litany of unfounded complaints.

Buck says he'd explained prior to the hearing that state statute would prevent the judge from approving expungement, although he offered John the chance to appeal. Buck says that when John started excoriating his legal acumen, Buck (a $225-per-hour lawyer who practices with Delegate David Toscano) felt his temper rising and recoiled from John's allegedly unsavory language.

"I turned away from him, and he kept cursing," says Buck. "I said, 'Just shut up,' and he said, 'Make me be quiet.'"

"I snapped," Buck admits. "I did put my hands to his neck, then immediately realized what a stupid thing that was for me to do, so I stepped away from him."

John says a security video of the 5:20pm incident–- which he has seen but not yet obtained–- supports his account of the events leading up to the alleged assault.

"Mr. Buck and I are sitting there talking," says John, who claims the video shows his ex-wife and her attorney sitting nearby and registering no reaction to suggest an argument is occurring in the courtroom before the assault. Neither the other attorney, Annie Lee Jacobs, nor John's ex-wife, Vanessa John, returned a reporter's calls.

Attorney Deborah Wyatt expresses shock about the incident, particularly since she says it seems out of character for Buck, who served as mayor from 1980-88. Buck's tenure included both the coffer-sweetening Revenue Sharing Agreement as well as the coffer-draining Omni hotel development; but in a 2006 Hook article on Charlottesville's mayors, the notoriously press-shy Buck declined all comment.

"The legal profession certainly is stressful," says Wyatt, noting, "We're all personally responsible for how we respond to such stress."

If convicted of assault, Buck could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. And attorney David Heilberg says a conviction might also trigger an additional sanction from the Virginia State Bar.

"It could be anything," says Heilberg, who says the Bar would likely take into account Buck's "long and distinguished career."

Buck points out that John was uninjured, and he expresses a mixture of defense and chagrin.

"I certainly was provoked," he says, "but I'm disappointed that I let him get under my skin so I did in fact react."

Buck is scheduled to appear in Charlottesville General District Court on Thursday, November 18, which is also his 65th birthday.

Read more on: Frank Buck


I'm not very worldly on this matter, but we have in this County seat a peculiar resistance to expungement in cases which, in other locales, would process almost automatically....and without legal fees.
That Zug thing seems a large part of it.

Sounds like Frank shoulda tossed the little pecker out a window and be done with it.

Expungement? Who cares about that. The real story is about another big shot has been, that will have an interesting birthday. Oh wait, He'll just ask for a new date. What a jerk. Not too sure about his client but Hey Frank, Maybe it's time for you to retire.

@Cville Eye:

"@boooo!, should ladies be allowed to slap men who insult them?"

Well, in the spirit of yesteryear where men drew swords or engaged in fisticuffs, why not. Ladies could gasp, take off their gloves and use the glove to slap the man across the cheek, then proclaim "Why, I never!"


There are plenty of people I would like to choke, but: I don't. It is not OK to do that, right?

I have known Frank Buck for over 30 years. He is a friend and colleague. I worked for the City Attorney's long ago for 8 years while Frank was on City Council. He was Mayor for 7 of those 8 years. He represented me once in a real estate closing. I have also had professional contact with Milton John recently and I have spoken about this incident with an attorney who has viewed the security camera footage of the incident in question. Frank reacted badly and has admitted as much, but what he did is way out of character for him and I believe him when he says he was provoked. Thank goodness he realized his error immediately and had the self-discipline to step away from the situation before anyone was hurt physically. Few people realize what despicable conduct lawyers put up with occasionally from their own clients (people often retain us to help them when they are feeling desperate and overwhelmed and they are not always at their best during our relationship with them). Maybe Frank needs a vacation, but this incident, and Frank's handling of it since it occurred, have not altered my very favorable opinion of him as a person or as a lawyer. Happy Birthday, Frank.

@ meanwhile....

"Frank Buck is a lawyer. If anyone’s to blame for men not being allowed to respond how they want or how they used to it’s LAWYERS."

Good point. And a bit ironic!

If Mr. Buck was acting in self defense, he would have said so in his quotes. You then go on to impune the reputation of someone that you do not know in any way. Glad that you didn't get to write the story, and hope that you never get called for jury duty.

What a hit piece. Who the heck is Deborah Wyatt and why is she qualified to comment on the incident? And why is the top half of the story entirely dominated by the word of a domestic abuser who doesn't pay his attorney fees? And it takes until the third to last paragraph to note that the guy was uninjured? I'm thinking Courteney Stuart needs to work on reporting a full story...or move on to writing for the Schilling show blog.

>>I’m thinking Courteney Stuart needs to work on reporting a full story”Šor move on to writing for the Schilling show blog.

We would welcome Courteney's talents at

I've known Frank Buck since the seventies and I wouldn't say he wouldn't do such a thing, but if he did he would've been sorely provoked. Read between the lines about his extended representation of this guy and you'll get the picture of an unpleasant man. I like the stories about Nero going out at night into the city in disguise, there to ambush and throw a whupping on senators who'd crossed him. We have us a situation where you put your hand on someone and it's assault if they choose to call it such. At least now he won't have to represent this guy anymore and I'd imagine most of the downtown legal club will "recuse" themselves if he tries to hire them.

Frank Buck is a lawyer. If anyone's to blame for men not being allowed to respond how they want or how they used to it's LAWYERS.

So he has a good reputation amongst many. This does not give him license to act however he wants.

It sounds like he's owning up to his behavior, provoked or not. Instead of assassinating the character of the man he allegedly assaulted, people should probably take a cue from the alleged perpetrator in this case.

Jeez the last man hanged at the old stone jail in Charlottesville was a former mayor (lived in Corwyn Hall on Park Street). What is it about the mayor's office that turns people to throttling friends and acquaintances? All the pointless meetings they have to attend? "That's one less person to call a meeting," says the mayor, washing the blood off his fingers.

Geez Biff, this guy you want to forgive and forget for assaulting someone, but the alleged pimp you want to condemn for his haircut and for not being an American?

Either you are for law and order or you are not. The color of someone's skin and their last name is not supposed to alter how the criminal justice system treats them, although it is obvious it does alter how you think about them.

Whatever precipitated this event must have been some very ugly behavior on the part of his client. Frank Buck has served our community with dedication, honesty and integrity. If a person such as Mr. John continued to be a client despite his expensive debt to his attorney, and abusive behavior, it seems that Mr. Buck may have endured years of abuse. Whatever happened during Mr. Johns ALLEGED injury, I am sure that Mr. Buck was acting in self defense. Whether that was from a precipitory physical assault by Mr. John, aggresive invasion of Mr. Buck's personal space, threatening motions by Mr. John or verbal threats and abuse to Mr. Buck, it is clear to me that Mr. John is not telling the whole truth. It is sad that our community is willing to believe sansationalized remarks from someone who probably has a record of this type of behavior (has anyone shared the details of Mr. John's past?). Remember that anyone can file a police report (true or not)and the police are under obligation to investigate. If Mr. John was endangered inside the courtroom I am sure that the bailiff and the judge would have immediately arrested Mr. Buck and/or filed a protective order. Attorneys have rights too-- Mr. Buck has the right to the same legal process as his misaligned client has enjoyed apparently for free.

A check of public records shows numerous traffic violations, many speeding, several expired inspection stickers,one possess radar detector, an illegal burning charge, and one STALKING.
I have a brother who quit law after many years mainly because of clients who insisted on leading a "my way" lifestyle.
People who stalk are such sweethearts.

@boooo!, should ladies be allowed to slap men who insult them?

This "John" is an airline pilot? Does the airline know of his emotional balance? Does the pilot licensing authority know?

John at the controls is another reason not to fly.

I have known Frank Buck for 20+ years and he is a man of great integrity and a fine attorney. His humility, respect for people and easy going personality brings me to ask some questions about this story. What causes an experienced attorney and community leader to react in such a way? Was Mr. John really "calmly expressing his frustration"? Could Mr. John who has previously been charged with "domestic abuse" start belittling and abusing his attorney? Was Mr. John trying to get his fees reduced? Does Mr. John order a meal at a restaurant and eat most of it before telling the server how awful it was and wants it taken off his bill? Hummm????

Former Mayor the megalopolis of Charlottesville throttles his client in regards to the client's complaint of the crooked kangaroo court system of Virginia-Charlottesville.

Any wonder why there is no progress in Virginia entering the twentieth Century--whilst the rest of the world has moved onward to the twenty-first?

Frank Buck is the most kind giving man I have ever meet. Do not judge him. the story makes him out to be a nasty person. That is the far from the truth. Shame on you Courteney Stuart. He helps people in need. He has helped me. That man that was his client must be a very b** man.

And I think Frank Buck's a swell guy, too, Inez�but there's nothing about this story that strikes me as in any way inappropriate or biased.

I know Mr.Buck as well, and he is a fine lawyer. He admits he made a mistake, he's just human. We all make mistakes, but I don't find the reporting to be inaccurate.

I have known Frank Buck for XX years and he consistently rescues kittens from tall trees and buys all teh candy and magazines he can from under priv'ledged young negroes.

Therefore, verily I say unto thee - "HE IS A GOOD LIBERAL AND CANNOT HAVE POSSIBLY PERFORMED SUCH VILLAINOUS ACTS, digital recording not withstanding."

Liberals gone wild, volume 82.
Collect them all, including: the Unabomber, the nut who crashed his plane into the Houston IRS office, the bomb clad nut who shot up the Discovery building.

@boooo! , thanks for the smile.

The city is the same way. They fight expungements tooth and nail. Personally, I think it's all about dishing out a "little bit more punishment" even if they couldn't win a case against a person.

It's not the first case Mr. Buck has royally screwed up - maybe Mr. Buck it's time you retire...

"whose character" not "who's character" Mon Dieu

@meanwhile Come on now do you need close-captioning to decode the meaning for you? Or shalll I be lit-hip and same "limn it for you"? And do you not see the intended highlight of the irony inherent in a defense attorney saying "Oh whoops my bad, it was just an impulsive act, let's not let this turn into something where my reputation, time, money, and perhaps even freedom are compromised as a result of it?".
The courts are full of people of lesser means (and perhaps a tad less restraint) who act on impulse and have their mail forwarded to Avon St as a result.

But on the other hand this is a guy who's character is known to be decent reacting to gross provocation without any harm except ruffled feathers (dignity wasn't there to begin with it seems).

So pay a defense lawyer $200 an hour to help him get admonished on his way.

Mr/Mrs/Miss WishIDidn'tReadtheHook, if you don't know who Debbie Wyatt is, you must not read The Hook as much as you want people to think you do.

She is one of the best defense attorneys that's ever practiced law in Virginia. Her latest victory was winning a large multi-million dollar wrongful death lawsuit for a family whose son was shot and killed by cops. All along the cop shoppe and commonwealth said the cops were involved in no wrongdoing. She convinced the jury to say otherwise.

Her nickname was "Black Widow". Just when the commonwealth (or the defense in a civil case) thought they had summed up their slam dunk case, she would sneak up and bite them in the butt like a spider. She was good. And it was a terrible loss for this community when she retired.

Sometimes I really wish we could return to the old days. You know, where men were allowed to settle disputes as real men. Fisticuffs, drawing of swords, whatever. But they were allowed to be men, and to settle their disputes face to face and take care of business, then be on with it Nowadays a man taunts another man, the other man responds as men have for tens of thousands of years by getting physical, to defend himself and his name (or to defend those closest to him, or their names, etc.)..........and now the other guy runs crying to a lawyer and it goes to litigation. People can dish it out, but they can't take it. There's a name for those types (several names in fact, that all basically mean the same thing), but I'll let others use their imaginations.

I don't know the situation, I don't know the people involved, and I wasn't there. But I will say this: If a man is taunting another man than that man should be able to sock him out and be done with it. Modern society is desperately trying to emasculate males and to strip away people's inherant rights to self defense. In "The Powers That Be's" effort to curb actual unprovoked criminal violence against truly innocent victims, the pendulum has now swung so far out of balance that you can't even look at a person the wrong way, or breathe on them incorrectly without the other party getting lawyered up. And let's face it....many people know this and definitely take advantage of that. Lot of people out there go around *baiting* others and trying to provoke them into some sort of hostile response, because they *know* the law is on their side. Again, there's a word for those types. And if you dish it out then you should be fully prepared to take it.

Even if Mr. Leo was right for whatever he was saying to Mr. Buck, men should have that right to respond as men have since the beginning of time and defend themselves. This modern society is going to collapse on itself because no part of it is working, and it's completely out of balance and out of synch for what humans are. Stuff is trying to mold people into something we're not, and it's not working.

End of rant.

Hmmm...a momentary lapse of judgement on the part of an otherwise decent person due to extreme provocation. What percentage of defense attorneys' income comes from this source? So does one say "don't do it where ya eat" or "physician heal thyself"? Or just "Sansational! Bust 'im upside the head counselah."