Quash quashed: Officials must talk in razor wire case

The City of Charlottesville was nicked June 21 when it tried to keep nine city employees from testifying in the criminal case against the property owner who has razor wire strung across her property to stop Rivanna Trail hikers.

Shirley Presley's attorney, Fred Payne, issued subpoenas to 13 people, including former mayor and Rivanna Trail Foundation board member John Conover, City Manager Gary O'Connell, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Kelley, Police Chief Tim Longo, and City Councilor Kevin Lynch. Even Hook reporter Courteney Stuart, who penned several stories about the long-running drama, has been ordered to appear in court June 29.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Joe Platania filed a motion to quash the city employees' subpoenas, arguing that Payne would have to show that their testimony would be "material and favorable" to the defense.

"I think you need some evidence to quash," said Charlottesville General District Court Judge Bob Downer. "They need to come in and make some representation."

"Let me make it clear to Mr. Platania," said Payne, noting his 30 years experience as an attorney. "All are necessary to my defense."

Judge Downer did show some concern about Payne's subpoena of Lisa Kelley, the deputy city attorney.

"I'm not asking for privileged information," replied Payne, who said he simply wants Kelley to authenticate documents. "These are all hostile witnesses," he added.

Payne also took issue with the fact that City Manager O'Connell would be out of the country on the June 29 trial date. "We object to that," said Payne. "He's had a month's notice. That [shouldn't] deprive Mrs. Presley of her right to a fair trial.

"All they're trying to do," Payne said of city employees, "is harass this lady."

His client, Shirley Presley, who has steadfastly declined comment to reporters, appeared in court sporting a green, checked jacket and lime pants, her blonde hair in a fresh wash-and-set. She was quickly ushered out of the courtroom by Payne at the close of the hearing.

"I'm going to allow the subpoenas to go forward and deny the motion to quash," declared Downer. He added that two of those subpoenaed– Officer Jeffrey Sandridge and O'Connell– would be excused if the lawyers could agree to stipulation of the facts to which the witnesses would testify.

"No comment," said Payne when asked if he'd stipulate.

"As a citizen, it's kind of interesting to me my city manager has all these trips out of the country," said the defense attorney after the hearing. "I don't get to travel out of the country like that."

Payne blasted the city's motion to quash as "having no merit." Platania, he said, "didn't argue the facts, and he didn't argue the law. He presented no evidence."

And while Payne was satisfied with Downer's decision, "I'm not at all satisfied with the actions of the city," he said. "I think it's extraordinary."

Next week: 13 subpoenas in a misdemeanor city code violation case– the rest of the story.

City ordinance takes issue with the concertina wire that fortifies Shirley Presley's patch of property on the Rivanna River, and the case goes to court June 29.