Unexpunged: Judge rejects Balfour's request

Lyn Balfour considers an appeal after a judge denies her request to expunge her record.

Raelyn Balfour, the mother whose infant son died when she left him in the car while she went to work at the Judge Advocate General's School, was back in the same court today where she was acquitted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter in January to ask that her record be expunged.

Balfour's criminal history with the Virginia State Police shows that she was charged with second-degree murder and criminal neglect in the March 30, 2007, death of nine-month-old Bryce, her attorney, Dana Slater, told the court, although she was ultimately prosecuted for–- and acquitted of–- involuntary manslaughter.

With jurors voting to acquit after just 90 minutes and at least two of them alleging afterward that tax dollars were wasted putting Balfour on trial, her attorney alleged that the record could endanger Balfour's security clearance in the Army Reserves, which she has to have as a senior non-commissioned officer.

"The issue of her security clearance is a red herring, and whether or not her record is expunged, [military] regulations require that she reveal it," argued Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman. "That's going to happen no matter what."

Chapman also pointed out that Balfour voluntarily works to educate the public about the dangers of children left in cars, and has participated in television interviews about what happened. "I think that's laudable," he told the court. However, the court and police records "will be the only record of this child."

Judge Edward Hogshire agreed with the prosecution. "There wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom," he said of the manslaughter trial over which he presided. But the wide publicity the case drew, and Balfour's public educational efforts, which "I think are to her credit," did not measure up to a "manifest injustice," a standard that has to be met to warrant expunging her record.

Balfour is concerned that her military security clearance could be determined by a person sitting in an office reviewing her record and influenced by the autopsy reports and the emotional details of her baby's death. "The military holds you to a much higher standard than the civilian world," she says. And without the military clearance, Balfour, who's served for 19 years, believes she would lose her pension and benefits.

She gave birth to another son, Braiden, April 15. "I don't let him out of my sight," she says. "I don't trust myself. Even when I know he's not in the car, I check and recheck." Her husband, Jarrett Balfour, is a contractor in Iraq.

For Balfour, the anguish over Bryce's death has not lessened. "Every day I think about it," she says. "I feel responsible about that. I feel responsible that my husband is in Iraq because of the large legal bills. I feel responsible that he's only seen his son for 10 days since he was born."

Balfour says she's "disappointed" that a crime for which she was tried and acquitted remains on her record, but she vows to continue– through an organization called Kids in Cars– to educate people about the dangers of children left in cars.

And while she considers an appeal of today's events she notes, "The worst has already happened."

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Isn't it great that Charlottesville has a Commonwealth's Attorney who apparently disregards the American tradition of the presumption of innocence, and the rehabilitation of one's reputation after being acquitted by a jury trial? I guess this is his childish way of punishing somebody that he and he alone considers guilty. He and Hogshire are on a power trip - but that's what elections are for, right?

I agree with Mr. Hogshire that there's is no injustice here. It should be a matter of public record that the lady was tried and acquitted. BTW, when did the military get to the place that they won't take people acquitted of crimes.


It's not that they won't take people acquitted of crimes it's that they might not giver her the security clearance that she's looking for.

It's not that they won't take people acquitted of crimes, it's that they might not giver her the security clearance that she's looking for.

If a Brinks truck driver lost the truck, would you give him security clearance? The military has thousands of jobs she can do well without security clearance.

I had a very similar experience with For the Floor, and in particular, the owner, Jack Ostrowski.

We bought a used home 6 years ago, and before we moved in had all of the floors done. The installation was fine, the service was fine, in large part due to our salesperson. At that time, we never had to deal with Mr. Ostrowski. We spent a pretty large sum of money at that time, around $8,000 on new carpet and flooring.

A couple of years ago we needed to replace the carpet in one room due to flooding, and since we had an acceptable experience before, we returned to For the Floor. Again, we worked with out same salesperson, and everything was fine. We had carpet replaced with wood laminate floor, and purchased two bound area rugs for the room where the carpet was replaced. I had an interior designer with me when I purchased the carpet, and she did all the sales work. All For the Floor had to do was transact the sale and deliver the carpet.

Last year we decided to do some renovation, and at the same time, an area of the bound rug we had purchased two years earlier was coming apart. So again, I returned to For the Floor. I asked them to send the carpet back to the company that made it to have it rebound, and asked if they could locate ceramic tile that apparently wasn't being made any longer, but matched the tile we had purchased from them 6 years ago. One of Jack's sons, came out, took some measurements of the area that we were renovating, and took our carpet to have it rebound. We didn't hear anything from them for months. Finally I called to check on the tile and our carpet, and found that our carpet had been rebound for months and was sitting in their warehouse, and Jack, by his own admission, had never followed through on researching the tile.

I called For the Floor and talked to one of Jack's sons, Dean, about researching the tile. I mentioned to him that I was unhappy with the customer service provided by his father, but I'd be willing to give the store another chance if he could try to find the tile. So Dean took on researching the availability of the tile. None could be located. Dean, however (and I really appreciated this) came out to our house to work out a Plan B since the tile wasn't being made anymore. Jack was supposed to have been the person to come out, but after waiting all morning for him, his son called and said "something came up", and he (Dean) was going to come out instead. Dean and I came up with some solutions, and then my husband and I went in a couple of weeks later to make the purchase. I'd bet that it was probably the easiest sale they've ever had. We purchased two different kinds of tile, picked out carpet on our own and paid for everything within about 15 minutes. The salespeople, other than Dean's visit to our house, didn't have to do anything. At the same time, I asked if they could hold our carpet that we'd had rebound until the tile came in, because I didn't want it to be damaged by the dust that was accumulating in our house due to the renovation. They agreed to do that.

A couple of weeks later the tile was delivered, along with the carpet. The carpet was left on our front porch, barely under the roof (and it did rain that night), rolled and then folded. It looked like a piece of trash someone had thrown out of the front door. The boxes of tile were left on the front porch in their boxes (which was fine.)

When I rolled out the carpet, I immediately noticed the binding was done very poorly. It was restitched in white thread (and this is a dark wine red carpet) and the stitching was different then the original stitching used. I called Dean to tell him three things: 1) The tile was the wrong tile, and 2) the carpet had been handled inappropriately -- folded and left laying half on/half off of the front porch, and 3) the unsatisfactory job that had been done on the rebinding. He made light of the situation. I said that I wasn't trying to get the delivery person in trouble, but that I wanted someone to speak to him about how to handle an expensive carpet. Dean's response was, "Yeah well, I'm not going to take him out back and shoot him." Very unprofessional -- and I was made to feel like I was overreacting. He didn't understand what I was talking about with the binding on the carpet. He was supposed to return to drop off the other tile a couple of days later, and I asked him if he would pick up the carpet to rebind it again. When he came he mentioned to our contractor who was working on our renovations, that he didn't know what I was talking about with the binding not being done right.

I went into the store a couple of days later, and asked to speak to Jack. I had a question about the tile, and I wanted to talk to him about the poor job on the binding. He said that "in 30 years of doing business, he has never had anyone complain about binding on a carpet." Again, I was made to feel like it was my problem, and that I was overreacing. He admitted that the binding was done in the store, and that they only have white thread and their machine only does one kind of stitch (which was, as I said earlier, different from the original stitching.) I told him that I had specifically asked for it to be returned to the company that made the carpet for it to be rebound and Jack said that I didn't, that he did not recall me every saying that. I was obviously wrong, he was right. He then mentioned that he would take a red magic marker and color the thread. I thought he was joking as he said it in a sarcastic way, but later I learned from another capret dealer in town, that this is acutally an acceptable way to cover up blemished in binding. He said, however, that he believe the carpet should have been sent back to the company too.

I was so angry and frustrated that I left abruptly, and vowed not to deal with anyone in that store, every again. I called my husband and told him that he would have to work with them from then on out.

Around this same time, I had to order some additional laminate flooring. I asked Jack to order it because our contracting needed it ASAP, and he said he'd have it the next day. Several days passed, with each day Jack telling me that he'd have it the next day. Finally, I called another carpet and floor business in Charlottesville, and they were able to have it by noon on the same day that I ordered it. He said the WilsonArt (the manufactuer of the flooring) representative makes a deliver every day, and that they surely could have done the same for For the Floor. I am quite confident that they reason that it never came in was that Jack failed to order it in a timely matter. When I finally got it from the other business, I called Jack to tell him not to order it, and (of course) he had it in. I told him I no longer needed it. Guess what? He billed me for it. Since by then, I was keeping with my vow to never deal with them again, my husband called and they canceled the bill.

I will NEVER deal with For the Floor again. I tell everyone I know not to deal with them either. When I read the "Fearless Consumer" column about them, I couldn't believe it! I'm surprised they stay in business with their poor attitued toward customers.

Sorry this is so long, but thanks for reading.

Patty Marbury