Buck stops here: Former mayor settles throttling case w/client
The trial for the assault charge against attorney Frank Buck for throttling his client in court ended quickly March 3 in another courtroom, without the former mayor getting hauled off to jail. Instead, Buck and his former client, Milton Leo John, a 53-year-old airline pilot who faced a separate charge for using abusive language, settled their differences with a civil settlement, and the criminal charges were dismissed.
The case rocked the Charlottesville legal community when the 65-year-old Buck, who served as mayor from 1980-1988, was arrested last fall for misdemeanor assault, which carries up to 12 months in jail.
"I snapped," Buck admitted to Hook reporter Courteney Stuart after the November 11 incident.
The case caused a cascade of legal calisthenics including seating a pair of special out-of-town prosecutors as well as a visiting judge after Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman and General District Judge Bob Downer recused themselves, each citing Buck's long tenure practicing law in Charlottesville.
The throttling took place November 10 during a recess in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, where Buck was representing John on a child support issue and the discussion turned to a previous domestic abuse charge that John wanted expunged. According to John's complaint, Buck suddenly went berzerk and grabbed his client "with both hands around the neck and squeezed."
Buck fired back November 21 and accused John of using abusive language, a Class 3 misdemeanor that carries up to a $500 fine but no jail time.
The hearing in General District Court March 3 was quick and cordial with both men's criminal cases promptly dismissed after Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin of Richmond told the substitute judge, Nelson-based Joseph M. Serkes, that the parties had reached an "accord and satisfaction"–- a civil settlement in which each agreed to pay court costs.
After paying his $81 in court costs, Buck said he plans to continue practicing law. But could the charge affect his license to practice?
"I don't think so," says Buck. "I don't know that for a fact. That's up to the Virginia State Bar."
However, Buck says he has already received one mandate from his law partners: "Get rid of clients who are more trouble than they're worth."
Buck says the case has served as something of a cautionary tale that has taught him "to be more careful in selecting my clients."
Buck admits to feeling a certain pride in taking cases that other attorneys wouldn't touch, but he also concedes that didn't always make for a pleasant working relationship.
"Sometimes you find, not necessarily because people are bad," says Buck, "that your way of practicing law is not consistent with the way they want. It's better to have that person go to another attorney."
The Hook was unable to reach John for his own zesty comments at press time.