Is there a statute of limitations on the appearance of a conflict of interest?
It's a convoluted but pertinent question likely to be left unanswered by officials in Hanover County, where Judge John Alderman has begun hearing drunken-driving cases again.
Alderman was convicted in Goochland County in November 2004 of driving under the influence of alcohol. He received a 30-day suspended jail term and was ordered to pay half of a $500 fine. He also lost his license to drive for a year, along with his permit to carry a concealed weapon.
He was, however, allowed to keep his judgeship.
Since then, according to law enforcement officials in Hanover who spoke on the condition of anonymity, his court docket had swerved to avoid DUI cases and to avoid hearing cases where Alderman's defense attorneys, Trip Chalkley and Craig Cooley, were representing defendants.
"I had assumed, just because of luck of the draw, I was appearing in front of other judges," Chalkley says of his absence from Alderman's courtroom. "Of course you think about what people would think."
After defending Judge Alderman more than two years ago, Chalkley wondered about the ethics of representing clients in the judge's court. He says the Virginia State Bar told him there'd be no ethical violation if he did.
But Chalkley, who is running in a three-way Republican primary against Hanover Commonwealth's Attorney Kirby Porter, says the bar also told him that the same wasn't necessarily true of Judge Alderman that there could be a conflict for the judge hearing Chalkley's cases.
Sources in the legal community say it was common knowledge that Alderman made a concerted effort, official or otherwise, to avoid hearing cases involving Chalkley, Cooley and DUI-related cases in general.
A Hanover Circuit Court official confirmed Friday, however, that Alderman's docket has returned to hearing DUI cases. The official would not say when Alderman began to accept such cases again.
Alderman's avoidance of Chalkley was seen April 23, when two last-minute changes were made to Alderman's docket. Chalkley had been scheduled to appear before Alderman as defense attorney in Commonwealth v. Hale, but his appearance was moved to another judge's court. Alderman moved another case in which Chalkley represented a witness to another judge.
In his courtroom, Alderman explained to attorneys that he was recusing himself from the second case.
"Gentlemen, I've got a conflict in this case," Alderman is heard on an audio recording of the hearing reviewed by Style. Alderman attempts to reschedule the hearing for the following Thursday. A few minutes later, the defense attorney, Eddie Vaughn, asks if there's another day when Alderman is available. Judge Alderman restates his inability to hear the case: "Yeah, I can't hear it. Period."
Another voice on the tape is heard further explaining Alderman's statement: "He can't do the witness." Chalkley represented that witness.
The Friday before that court date, Style contacted Alderman's office regarding his hearing of DUI cases, as well as Commonwealth v. Hale. A secretary at the courts office confirmed that Chalkley was scheduled to appear on Alderman's docket in that case.
The judge did not return several calls for comment by press time. S