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Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission of Virginia v. Pomrenke

Supreme Court of Virginia

November 27, 2017


          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, Powell, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Millette, S.J.



         The Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission of Virginia (the "Commission") filed the present complaint against Kurt J. Pomrenke ("Judge Pomrenke"), pursuant to the original jurisdiction of this Court set forth in Article VI, Section 10 of the Constitution of Virginia and Code § 17.1-902. The Commission asserted that its charges against Judge Pomrenke for allegedly violating the Canons of Judicial Conduct for the Commonwealth of Virginia (the "Canons"), as set out in Part 6, Section III of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, are well founded in fact, and that the violations are of sufficient gravity to require that this Court censure or remove him from office.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         A. The Notice

         On January 17, 2017, the Commission issued a Notice establishing formal charges ("Notice") against Judge Pomrenke, alleging that he had engaged in misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice while serving as a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge. He was charged with violations of Canons 1, 2A, and 2B.

         The Commission based its charges on certain alleged facts related to the criminal corruption trial of his wife. Judge Pomrenke's wife, Stacey Pomrenke, was an executive vice president and the chief financial officer of the Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority ("BVU") and was indicted by a federal grand jury on 15 corruption charges on October 26, 2015. According to the Notice, Judge Pomrenke attempted to influence two potential witnesses in his wife's criminal trial.

         Note to Donald L. Bowman

         Judge Pomrenke sent a handwritten note to his wife's boss, BVU president and chief executive officer Donald L. Bowman ("Bowman"), on November 18, 2015, that stated as follows:

Hi Don,
I just wanted to sincerely thank you for your kindness and understanding support for Stacey during these horrible times. By now I am sure you would agree she is absolutely honest, truthful, ethical, and innocent! It is horrible what our government is doing to her. She will be proven innocent. Thank you for believing in her.
Kurt Pomrenke

         Judge Pomrenke included one of his business cards identifying himself as a judge with this note.

         Voicemail for Connie Moffatt

         The second allegation involved a voicemail message Judge Pomrenke left on February 13, 2016, for Connie Moffatt ("Moffatt"), a BVU employee who was expected to testify during his wife's trial on February 16, 2016. The message stated:

Hey Connie, this is Kurt, um, when you're testifying in that trial there might be a couple of things that you could do that would really help Stacey. If you could kinda slip in when you have a chance just little remarks like, how Stacey did a great job, or Stacey was the one that took care of the employees, or Stacey is just an honest . . . just any, any kind of little comments you can make to support her or, Stacey was the one that always looked out for the employees or, just . . . just something like that even though it's not directly in response to the questions, if you could figure out a way to, to do that I really think that would help and make a huge difference. I'm sorry you're caught up in this, but we feel really good about the outcome and sure appreciate your help. Thank you, bye.

         On February 26, 2016, Mrs. Pomrenke was found guilty of 14 of the 15 corruption charges. Three days later, the federal district court judge directed the government to bring a contempt prosecution against Mrs. Pomrenke, based in part on the note to Bowman. The charge was later supplemented to include the message left for Moffatt as well. While her contempt prosecution was pending, a federal magistrate judge presided over a search warrant hearing during which the prosecutor presented evidence of the Bowman note and Moffatt voicemail. The magistrate judge stated that, if the evidence were true, it would establish probable cause that Judge Pomrenke had engaged in witness tampering and/or obstruction of justice. Mrs. Pomrenke was later found guilty of contempt. Upon finding her guilty, the federal district court judge noted in open court that Judge Pomrenke's actions were not proper, but they were not before him for adjudication.

         B. Judge Pomrenke's Answer

         Judge Pomrenke filed an answer to the Commission's charges on February 8, 2017. Judge Pomrenke argued that the alleged actions did not amount to judicial misconduct or conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice, and he asserted that his actions did not violate any Canons of Judicial Conduct. He admitted sending the note to Bowman and leaving the voicemail for Moffatt. However, he stated that when he sent the note to Bowman he did not know that Bowman was a potential witness for the government. He asserted that he made both of these communications in his personal capacity and was not intending to intimidate or pressure anyone. He nonetheless agreed that in hindsight he would not again make such a call or write such a note.

         C. The Commission Hearing

         The Commission conducted an evidentiary hearing on June 13, 2017, at which time Judge Pomrenke was present and represented by counsel. Bowman testified that he is an attorney licensed in Virginia, and he was hired as the president and chief executive officer of BVU in November 2014. Mrs. Pomrenke was the chief financial officer when he came to work there. When Bowman began his employment at BVU, he was aware that federal authorities were investigating allegations of corruption at BVU. Bowman began assisting the authorities in their investigation in February ...

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