Protesters call for investigation into judge who jailed witness in domestic violence case

‘It has made the prosecution of this nearly impossible,’ prosecutor says

By: - September 23, 2021 3:43 pm

Activists outside the Loudoun County Courthouse condemned a judge who sentenced the witness in a domestic violence case to jail. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Protesters outside the Loudoun County courthouse Thursday denounced a local judge who sent the alleged victim in a domestic violence case to jail on a contempt charge.

“This judge shouldn’t be on the bench,” said Lisa Sales, a women’s rights activist and domestic violence survivor who organized the gathering of about 30 people.

Sales called for an investigation into Judge James P. Fisher and more transparency from the state’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission, which is tasked with fielding complaints about judges and operates largely in secret.

Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman described the turn of events that led 33-year-old Katie Orndoff to be held in jail for two days as misogynistic and patriarchal.

“This will not stand in Loudoun County,” she said.

Fisher ordered Orndoff jailed as she was testifying against her boyfriend in a felony domestic violence case. More than an hour into her testimony, Fisher stopped the proceedings to question whether she was intoxicated — a subject that had come up during what prosecutors described as a difficult cross examination. She said she had smoked marijuana the morning of the trial, which occurred in the afternoon.

He immediately ordered her jailed for 10 days and she was removed from the courtroom by deputies. She served two days before he released her on bail while she appealed the charge. Meanwhile, he declared a mistrial in the domestic violence case.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Orndoff both say she did not appear intoxicated and that Fisher’s inquiry violated Orndoff’s rights. They also note that marijuana is legal and it was never established that Orndoff was actively under the influence.

A hearing had been scheduled for Thursday to reconsider the contempt charge, but in a filing Fisher called the motion to vacate “wholly without merit.”

Among other things, he noted that Orndoff’s attorneys had already appealed the case to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

A hearing was also canceled in the domestic violence case against Orndoff’s partner, James Page Phillips, who is accused of punching her in the face twice. If found guilty, it would be his third offense.

But Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj said she doubts the case will advance given Fisher’s actions.

“It has made the prosecution of this nearly impossible,” said Biberaj at Thursday’s courthouse rally.

That said, Biberaj said her office would not give up on the case if Orndoff remains willing to testify — something she said remains to be seen.

“I don’t know if Mrs. Orndoff, as any victim in this case, would subject themselves to that travesty.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.