By Shauna Muckle
Lexington’s city attorney Jared Jenkins was banned from appearing in Rockbridge Circuit Court and faces possible jail time after a dispute with the court’s judge.
The dispute stems from a land trust case before Judge Christopher Russell, who on June 21 ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered Jenkins, an attorney at Mann Legal Group, to pay opposing counsel’s fees of $4,000 by July 6. The case is unrelated to his work for the City of Lexington.
Jenkins has so far refused to pay those fees. Russell also served Jenkins with a contempt order Oct. 12. According to the order, Jenkins must pay daily fines of $200 beginning Oct. 6 and serve 60 days of jail time beginning Nov. 10 if he continues to refuse to pay the opposing counsel’s legal fees.
Those rulings prompted Jenkins to send emails and file court documents, which Russell called “beyond inappropriate as a way to express disagreement with a ruling of the court.” He said Jenkins’s statements reflect poorly on him personally.
In a Sept. 29 court filing, Jenkins said the court’s treatment of the case was “rife with unethical conduct.”
“Jeopardizing the public trust in the judiciary by wrongfully and unethically pursuing the course of action taken in this case is dangerous,” Jenkins wrote in the filing. “In a just legal system, calling attention to this fact would be heard, considered and addressed—not sanctioned.”
A colorful hearing
Russell held a “show cause” hearing last week so Jenkins could argue to retain his right to practice before the Rockbridge Circuit Court.
Jenkins clearly wanted to draw attention to his battle with the judge. He invited members of the public to attend last week’s hearing. After 30 minutes of back-and-forth statements between Jenkins and the judge, Russell ended the hearing and revoked Jenkins’ right to appear as counsel in the circuit court.
“That’s it?” Jenkins said at the end of the hearing.
Russell criticized Jenkins’ response, calling it “a diatribe against the court,” with “insinuations that the court is corrupt and has acted unlawfully.” Those writings “confirm my suspicion that you are not fit to practice law anywhere in the Commonwealth,” Russell told Jenkins.
Those writings “confirm my suspicion that you are not fit to practice law anywhere in the Commonwealth,” Russell told Jenkins.
Jenkins filed an appeal, known as a writ of mandamus, to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, requesting that Russell’s rulings in the land trust case be reversed. He also asked the state court to preserve his right to practice in Rockbridge Circuit Court.
Jenkins wrote that Russell’s actions pose a threat to his “career, reputation, and personal liberty” that is “severe and unjust.”
That writ was dismissed Oct. 19, said Lexington City Councilmember Dennis Ayers, who works in the Rockbridge County Courthouse as a paralegal. Jenkins will now likely have to go through the regular appeals process, Ayers said.
Jenkins did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In the public eye
Jenkins first alerted the public to the pending case during an Oct. 6 city council meeting. At that point, Ayers had already alerted his colleagues to the dispute, Lexington Mayor Frank Friedman said.
Hours after Jenkins’s right to practice in Circuit Court was revoked, he appeared at the Oct. 20 city council hearing to brief council members on the proceedings.
He said the city has no active cases before the Rockbridge Circuit Court, and he’ll be able to retain most of his private clients.
“The ruling today was very limited in the restrictions it placed upon me,” Jenkins said. “I’m able to represent any client in Rockbridge County in all other courts, including the city as long as you’ll have me.”
Lexington sticks with Jenkins
Friedman said the city will continue working with Jenkins, despite the theatrics of a prominent judge versus the city’s attorney.
“The things that he’s working on with real estate and other [issues,] he’s perfectly competent and capable of taking care of,” Friedman said.
But jail time could pose an issue, Friedman said. “I’m not sure how those get served, but if he’s not here, that would be an issue,” he said.
The private case at the heart of this legal dispute is Irvine v. Moore, which involves Dudley Land Trust. According to Jenkins’s writ of mandamus, a lawsuit was filed by individuals who were not trustees of the land trust. A trustee has to be party to a suit in order for a court to issue a ruling, Jenkins wrote.
Russell ruled in favor of the plaintiffs who filed the suit. Jenkins, who represents the opposing clients, said Russell had no authority to issue a ruling without a trustee filing a lawsuit.