Precedent setting: Supreme Court denies booze-serving parents' appeal
George and Lisa Robinson never intended to become a cautionary tale. They just thought they were keeping teens determined to drink safe by hosting a party and keeping the kids off the roads.
Four years after a juvenile court judge sentenced them to eight years in jail, later reduced to 27 months by a circuit court judge, the Supreme Court of Virginia has upheld their convictions. Unless they appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, they're looking at more than two years in jail.
On January 12, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected the now-divorced couple's arguments that Albemarle police Sergeant Scott Cox's warrantless search of their backyard, where they were hosting their son's 16th birthday party August 16, 2002, was unconstitutional.
The case has wended its way upward through the legal system since February 3, 2003, when juvey Judge Dwight Johnson sentenced the pair to an unprecedented eight years in prison and an $80,000 bond. TV cameras captured the couple's shackled perp walk that day on their way to a night in jail.
On appeal in Albemarle Circuit Court September 3, 2003, Judge Paul Peatross slapped the pair with a still-unprecedented three months in jail for each of nine counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, despite the prosecution's request of a 90-day sentence. The Virginia Supreme Court's decision upheld that verdict and its 27-month sentence.
The saga started August 16, 2003, a month after Albemarle High teen Brittany Bishop died in a car accident involving alcohol. A 19-year-old who supplied alcohol in that tragedy was sentenced to 30 days and a minor got 10 days.
The Robinsons planned to collect the car keys of the teen partygoers and block the driveway of their Bleak House Road house. Elisa Robinson bought over $1,000 in food, including $350 for beer and designer drinks purchased at the Rio Hill Kroger. She also purchased five large trash cans to ice down the beverages.
Her ex-husband, Marc Kenty, iced down and delivered the beer. He's served 30 days for his role.
According to court documents, Elisa Robinson did not tell parents there would be alcohol at the party, and a juvenile in attendance reported hearing George Robinson say on the phone that no alcohol would be served.
Approximately 30 teens scattered after Officer Cox drove up the driveway and spotted two adolescents drinking beer. Albemarle police had received three phone calls reporting the party.
Lisa Robinson stipulated that she told several juveniles to "swallow vinegar in order to fool the Alcosensor," according to the court opinion.
Nine teenagers were found with measurable blood alcohol levels at .03 or below. In Virginia, .08 is the legal level of intoxication when driving.
The Robinsons contend that Cox violated their Fourth Amendment rights when he went past the path to the front door and continued on to the backyard where the pool party was being held, and that the beer-filled trash cans and other evidence should have been suppressed.
Fran Lawrence, Lisa Robinson's attorney, describes "implied consent" as what makes it okay for a Girl Scout to come to the front door to sell cookies– but not to the back or side.
Cox "never had any intention of going to the front door," says Lawrence. "He admitted that."
However, the Supreme Court decided the officer's intent was irrelevant, ruling that he had probable cause to believe teens were drinking alcohol, and that if he left to go get a warrant, the beer-swilling juveniles could destroy the evidence and split, perhaps injuring themselves in inebriated flight.
Three weeks after the ill-fated 16th birthday party, George and Elisa Robinson separated, according to a Court of Appeals of Virginia ruling that George's $50,000 a month income from a $59 million trust was not marital property.
On October 18, 2004, the Bleak House Road residence, which was listed for sale for $510,000, burned to the ground, and Lisa Robinson fled wearing a towel. The house remained in charred disrepair until late last year. That same month, George Robinson's Renaissance-themed remarriage, in which the groom wore armor, was featured in the Daily Progress.
Also in 2004, Lisa Robinson changed her name to Elisa Christian Kelly.
"We're still considering our options," says Jonathan Wren, attorney for George Robinson, who may have the opportunity to argue his case before the biggest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. Robinson has 15 days after the entry of the order on January 12 to notify the court of his intentions, says Wren.
"We had hoped for a different decision," says Lawrence. The decision "picks away at the idea we're safe in our homes and that people can't wander around in our yards." His client intends to appeal, according to the attorney.
Since the judiciary cracked down on the Robinsons, Albemarle parents are more likely to shy away from hosting their offsprings' friends in events that could involve alcohol.
However, teens in Albemarle continue to drink. Last spring, Albemarle High senior Nolan Jenkins, 17, died after leaving a party hosted by the brother of Brittany Bishop, the AHS student who died a month before the 2002 Robinson party. Eleven adolescents at last spring's party were charged with underage drinking– but no parents were involved in the event.
Elisa Robinson now goes by Elisa Christian Kelly.
George Robinson remarried, dressed as a knight in shining armor.