PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, Powell, Kelsey, and
McCullough, JJ., and Millette, S.J.
W. LEMONS CHIEF JUSTICE.
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.
Facts and Proceedings
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
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.
to Donald L. Bowman
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
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.
Pomrenke included one of his business cards identifying
himself as a judge with this note.
for Connie Moffatt
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
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.
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.
Judge Pomrenke's Answer
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.
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 ...