Following a year of missteps and tragedy, bravely fought through by the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC), 2019 launched in a new and encouraging direction – highlighted last week by a $25,000 Petco donation – under revived humane society and animal shelter management.
HSWC Board President Ellen Aders announced what she called “the most generous donation by Petco” on Saturday, February 16, the day after Executive Director Meghan Bowers delivered an upbeat, maiden speech to the Rotary Club of Front Royal just two months after her appointment. Bowers came to the Warren County Humane Society from an animal rescue operation in Aldie, Virginia.
Early last year, when members were called in to receive assurances that the HSWC was not being allowed, as some had complained, to “go to the dogs,” Aders and her board stepped up to the plate and pulled the society from its downward spiral, culminating in the appointment of Bowers as HSWC executive director. Bowers and new Julia Wagner Animal Shelter Manager Kayla Wines tenures included a four-month saga involving the rescue of 30 dogs and cats from an embattled former breeding kennel operation. The animals were recently released for adoption.
“Hard work and dedication has paid off,” said Aders. “Our board has worked tirelessly doing things that most boards never have to do. For example, I’d never written a grant before but ‘somebody had to do it’ and that’s how we functioned before Meghan joined us (in December) … like, somebody has to do it … and everyone stepped up!”
Bowers, who includes successful community outreach as one of her goals, gave her first speech locally to Front Royal Rotarians last Friday (February 15), recounting her initial few weeks on the job and providing her priorities in the work before her.
She emphasized the importance of “our TNR program” which is shorthand for the “Trap, Spay and Neuter” of stray or feral cats. “It is the only proven effective and humane method of dealing with feral cat populations, of which there are many in this area,” she said.
TNR involves trapping feral cats, vaccinating, spaying or neutering them, and returning them to their colony. The program fast reduces feral cat populations.
She admitted TNR has “always been a little bit controversial, with opinions ranging from “kill all feral cats” to “bring them to the shelter and adopt them out (TNA).” She chose TNR over TNA as the doable middle ground and called on the service club and the general public to help support the program to bring the burgeoning problem of feral cats under control. The cost is high – $80 to catch, fix, and release each cat.
Even in a down year, HSWC did many things right – reunited 270 lost animals with their owners; adopted out 900 animals over the previous 12 months; spayed or neutered 6,000 animals through a low-cost partnership with the Ancira Veterinary Clinic; and according to Bowers’ statistical report also maintained the Wagner Shelter’s “no kill” status.
To better meet the already high overhead of operating the72-year-old shelter, Bowers described a new way of donating. It is through the “HSWC Legacy Giving Program.” This involves including the animal shelter in a will.
“Lasting gifts such as this help us better plan for the future and give us peace of mind and stability,” she said.
FRPD adds response to Downes release on Tharpe-Bailey investigations
The day after Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc Abrams issued a response to Cynthia Bailey attorney David Downes release accusing the special prosecutor from his office and a Front Royal Police investigator of exerting undue pressure on his client to testify in the investigation into former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe, FRPD followed suit.
Shortly after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, a town police release from the office of Chief Kahle Magalis was issued. It states:
“In response to the assertions made by Defense Counsel David Downes, we have verified inaccurate information within the previously issued press release dated May 17, 2019 submitted by Downes. My Detectives performed their duties in accordance with the law, at the direction of their supervisors, and in conjunction with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices in a fair and impartial fashion. The investigation has been forwarded to the appropriate agencies for continued investigation and prosecution.”
Winchester prosecutor’s office responds to Downes press release
Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, May 21, the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office of Marc Abrams released a terse 139 word, two paragraph response to Cynthia Atkinson Bailey attorney David Downes May 17 press release alleging undue pressure being put on his client by a special prosecutor from his office; and “retaliatory prosecution” against Bailey for her reluctance to testify against former Front Royal Mayor Hollis Tharpe regarding his May 31, 2018 visit to her Biggs Drive massage parlor in Front Royal.
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the City of Winchester is appointed to investigate and prosecute the matter of Commonwealth v. Hollis L. Tharpe. This office was not assigned to investigate nor to prosecute Cynthia Bailey or any person other than Hollis Tharpe. Heather Hovermale, who was assigned to this case, has met with witnesses pertaining only to the matter of Commonwealth v. Hollis L. Tharp, (sic) in which no other person is accused of any criminal misconduct. At no point has Ms. Hovermale threated (sic) Ms. Bailey with criminal prosecution for failing to cooperate nor has any member of law enforcement done so in her presence.”
The second paragraph cites professional prohibitions against prosecutors “publicly commenting on evidence in an open case” and states the office will be available for further comment upon conclusion of the Tharpe prosecution.
See this linked story for details of the Bailey attorney’s perceptions regarding the potential of undue prosecutorial or investigative pressure or retaliation being exerted against his client, as well as background on both cases.
But to summarize for those of you who don’t like “flipping”, Downes focused particular attention on an April 3 visit to his client by Front Royal Police Investigator David Fogle and Hovermale in her role as Tharpe special prosecutor.
“Notwithstanding Ms. Bailey’s continued representation by another attorney on the subject matter she was questioned by the special prosecutor. Fogle and Hovermale were only interested in one suspect, the Mayor of Front Royal, Hollis L. Tharpe, and asked her questions only about him,” Downes wrote.
Downes pointed to Tharpe’s grand jury indictment 12 days later, on April 15 adding, “On the same date, Special Prosecutor Hovermale was placed on written notice that Cynthia Bailey’s representation by counsel was continuing because she was still subject to prosecution for the underlying offense of prostitution. Hovermale was also advised that Bailey intended to exercise her Fifth Amendment privilege (not to self-incriminate) based on threats of multiple criminal charges.”
Those multiple criminal charges came a month later, May 15, when Cynthia Atkinson Bailey, Jesse Thomas Atkinson, Brandy Nicole Atkinson and Joshua Allan Stamper were charged on multiple counts related to the massage parlor operation’s alleged prostitution or sexually-tinged services. According to Downes, Jesse Atkinson, Brandy Atkinson and Joshua Stamper are his client’s son, daughter and son-in-law, respectively.
Rotary awards go to county students, teachers and high school bands
Three students, 10 teachers and two high school bands were recognized by the Rotary Club of Front Royal in separate ceremonies or announcements during the past couple of weeks.
Two Warren County High School students and one from Skyline High School have been selected for Rotary Scholarship Awards by a Rotary Club of Front Royal committee. They each will receive their $7,000 cash awards at a weekly meeting of the club on Friday, May 24 at Front Royal’s Community Center.
The scholarship recipients are Kaley Foulks and Lauren Fox of Warren County High School , and Destiny Austin of Skyline High School. Fox and Foulks are both headed to Virginia Tech later this year. All boasted 4.0 or better grade point averages (GPAs) and all excelled in various sports and community activities.
Eight candidates were selected for interviews by the committee, chaired this year by former Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Pam McInnis.
Teachers receiving Front Royal Rotary Excellence in Educating Youth awards on Friday, May 14, in a ceremony conducted by Rotarian Melody Shepherd were: Niki Bradley, A.S. Rhodes Elementary School; Kaitlyn Tuttle, E. Wilson Morrison Elementary; Amy Mawyer, Hilda J. Barbour Elementary; Ali O’Barto, Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary; Kasey Nicholson, Ressie Jeffries Elementary; Alyson Pumphrey, Skyline Middle School; Rebecca Webster, Warren County Middle School; Jeanette Schurtz, Skyline High School; Elizabeth Walker, Warren County High School; and Laurel Gillion, Brighter Futures Learning Center.
Earlier, Rotarians voted to make cash awards toward the cost of new uniforms for both the Warren County and Skyline High School bands.
May 29, July 17 set for further motions arguments in EDA civil case
It was a who’s who of the controversy swirling around the audit and investigation into EDA finances and its aftermath on Wednesday morning, May 22, on the second floor of the Warren County Courthouse.
A motions hearing on the EDA civil litigation filed on March 26 was slated for the 9 a.m. Circuit Court docket before Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr., while the Special Grand Jury empanelled by Athey on March 27 to investigate potential criminality tied to the EDA financial investigation and civil litigation was beginning three days of witness testimony across the hall.
It appeared that all people named as civil defendants, save Truc “Curt” Tran who was represented by counsel, were present along with relatives, attorneys, former EDA co-workers and Front Royal Police investigators who worked the EDA office break-in case. The interesting mix created a standing room only crowd in the second-floor hallway, as well as some confusion as to which circuit courtroom was whose ultimate destination.
In opening the motions hearing Judge Athey noted that he would be leaving the circuit court bench in September for a seat on the Virginia Court of Appeals, so would not be the judge who would ultimately hear this civil case. He surmised the 26th District’s Chief Judge would assume that role.
But it was Athey who would hear and rule on a bevy of motions before him on Wednesday.
The judge agreed with defense attorney calls for more detail in the six-counts tied to the EDA civil complaints seeking a minimum total of $17.6 million from nine defendants, five people and four Limited Liability Corporations (LLC’s) tied to those five people – Jennifer McDonald, Donald Poe, Justin Appleton, Truc “Curt” Tran and Daniel McEathron.
Attorneys for the Sands-Anderson law firm that filed the suit on the EDA’s behalf have drawn heavy defense counsel criticism for listing all defendants together in one lawsuit seeking a lump-sum amount from all – “implausible conspiracies” was the term used by Jennifer McDonald attorney Lee Berlik in his motions filing.
And while there is a great deal of specificity as to acts and amounts of money in the 160 paragraphs preceding the 39-paragraphs comprising the six counts, such detail is absent in the listing of those counts of: 1/ Fraud and Fraud in the Inducement; 2/ Conversion; 3/ Conspiracy; 4/ Unjust Enrichment; 5/ Breach of Fiduciary Duty of Loyalty; and 6/ Ultra Vires (improper) Transactions and Agreements.
While not an attorney, for this long-time court observer it is surprising that the EDA civil action wasn’t broken into separate suits involving the various acts, entities and amounts of money cited in the first 160 paragraphs of the civil complaint. And while I would have asked Sands-Anderson and EDA civil case attorney Cullen Seltzer about that strategy, he was not speaking on the record following the approximate half-hour hearing.
Athey gave defense attorneys 21 days to file memos in support of their Demurrers and Motions for Bills of Particulars on the cases against their clients; and the plaintiff counsel 21 days to file Briefs in opposition to the defense assertions; and an additional seven days for defense responses to the plaintiff Briefs.
Those defense and plaintiff filings will be argued at the end of the Motions Day of July 17.
As to a motion to Quash the complaint against Earth Right Energy and its principals Donald Poe and Justin Appleton, Athey set a hearing for next Wednesday, May 29, at 9 a.m.
There was an interesting revelation by plaintiff attorneys in the wake of Jennifer McDonald’s co-attorney Jay McDannell’s request for the now seven-month, three-quarters of million dollar “forensic audit” of EDA finances the County has fronted the EDA money for. McDannell sought that detail so as to better understand and prepare a defense for his client on the financial misappropriation allegations against the former EDA executive director.
Noting the EDA and County retention of the accounting firm of Cherry Bekaert, out of its Richmond office, Seltzer said there could be a problem with the 10-day time period Athey ordered for provision of the McDonald attorney-requested audit materials.
“We’ve been hearing this for six months – it’s time to put up or shut up,” Athey told the plaintiff attorney.
Seltzer then appeared to indicate that Cherry Bekaert had not done a “forensic audit” as it has previously been referenced in County and EDA discussion, but rather what was later termed an intrinsic fact-finding. He also said a “final audit gap complaint” was not yet prepared or available for submission to discovery motions. Previously EDA officials have indicated that after the EDA board and staff have reviewed the most recent draft of the Cherry Bekaert financial investigation in closed session, the hard copy has been shredded.
“Whatever they’ve prepared – file it,” the judge instructed plaintiff counsel.
McDonald attorney McDannell also addressed the potential of criminal prosecutions against his client from the Special Grand Jury investigation going on across the hall on Wednesday. McDonald’s counsel, as well as other case defense attorneys, have pointed to the potential of Fifth Amendment assurances (the right not to self-incriminate) from testimony in the civil case were criminal indictments handed down by the special grand jury’s related investigation into their client’s actions.
Athey noted that no indictments have yet been filed and observed that similar arguments were put forth “in every divorce case where adultery is alleged”. The judge appeared to side with the plaintiff in this argument, noting that the issue could be revisited were criminal indictments, in fact, handed down against defendants in the civil case.
McDonald’s counsel also argued to quash a portion of plaintiff subpoenas on his client’s finances related to her legal representation. In explaining the request Seltzer noted that the former EDA chief executive is accused of “defrauding a significant amount of money from the EDA” and wondered if some of that money was being used to fund her defense.
“Is she using stolen money to pay her attorneys,” Seltzer asked.
However, Athey granted the defense motion to quash that portion of the plaintiff subpoena for financial records.
R-MA Graduates Encouraged to Remember Who They Are
Throughout the speeches and ceremonies of the graduation season, Randolph-Macon Academy’s 45 graduating seniors and eight Falcon Scholars were challenged to hold fast to their values. With 191 acceptances to 110 different colleges and universities, the class garnered over $5.1 million in college scholarships. In addition, all eight of the Falcon Scholars earned appointments to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
During the Baccalaureate Service on Thursday, May 16th, Chaplain Josh Orndorff had challenged the class with, “Remember who you are.” His words were a foreshadowing of the messages the graduating seniors would hear throughout the weekend.
During the graduation ceremony, valedictorian Noelle Kramer told her classmates, “If you don’t understand your goal now, that’s okay. That’s what the next years of your life are for. But be sure that while you seek to know your purpose, you never forget to understand yourself. Listen to what your own interests are, and know that a change of heart is never a failure.”
Noelle recounted the difficult personal time she had had during her second semester of her senior year. Her personal struggles impacted her studies tremendously; she stopped participating in class, left assignments undone, and subsequently risked all she had worked for. “I forgot who I was and why I wanted to achieve in the first place. I didn’t care about my schoolwork, my health, my friends… All I could manage to do when I got home was sleep or watch Netflix. Naturally, my grades suffered as a consequence,” she confessed. “After running for miles and miles with the wind at my heels, I tripped and fell when I was yards away from the finish line. But it was only through the love and support that I have found here at R-MA that I was able to pick myself off the ground and make my way across at the end.” Thanks to that and the fact that she did rally to finish the year well, R-MA’s Valedictorian will head off to MIT in the fall.
Guest speaker Gen Darren McDew, USAF, Retired, gave an engaging presentation that resonated with the students. Like Noelle, Gen McDew had researched speeches, and learned he should give the students a charge–and so he did. “My charge is simply, ‘Beware, decide, be,” he said. “Your story begins again today. You don’t have to have it all figured out yet, but you’ve got to get to understand who you are now, and most importantly who you’re not. And it’s okay to play around on the edges of that. So beware of the tests. Most of you believe that your academic journey was where the tests were and where the test will be. I’m here to tell you those are the easy ones. They’re the ones that most of the time are scheduled. They’re the ones that you get a letter grade for. They’re the ones that you can recover from. It’s life’s tests that are most damaging and challenging. Be careful and beware that they’re coming. Someone will test your integrity. Someone will test your honor. Someone will test your core. Understand that test is coming and be ready for it. You’ve been given all the foundation and tools you need to deal with it.”
Gen McDew then told the story of his first sortie. As a newbie, he read the training manual to refresh himself the night before the flight. Because he was prepared, he did well, and the first block of his reputation was laid. From there, he continued to build his reputation by ensuring he was prepared.
“That’s why I say, ‘Decide.’ Decide who you are,” he explained to the soon-to-be graduates. “Not forever, but what’s in your core. Many people in the world, some of the people you admire, know what right looks like, but they can’t live it. Decide today you’re going to live it and then keep doing it. And the last part is ‘Be.’ Beware the test, decide who you want to be and then just be. And the ‘Be’ is ‘Be it every day.’ Be it when times are tough. Be it when it’s inconvenient. Every single day, be who you are at your core, and continue to get stronger.”
Woven throughout the weekend’s events were acknowledgements of the many successes of the school year, such as the Drill Team’s repeat state championship and the girls’ varsity soccer team championship. Also acknowledged was the fact that they were missing someone: the late Mr. Robert Davies, who had taught many of the graduates when they were freshmen and sophomores. Throughout the extreme ups and downs of the 2018-19 school year, the Class of 2019 bonded, and now, with a firm foundation, they move onto the next phase in life. For the eight Falcon Scholars, that is the US Air Force Academy. For one senior, that will mean enlisting in the military. The other 44 graduates will move onto colleges such as the The George Washington University, Penn State, Arizona State, Babson College, VMI, Virginia Tech, the U.S. Naval Academy, and other institutions.
Lord Fairfax Health District warns residents of rabies risk
(Winchester, Va.) — The Lord Fairfax Health District is alerting residents that on May 18, 2019, without provocation, a raccoon attacked a person in the vicinity of Georgetown Road west of Mount Jackson in Shenandoah County. The raccoon was caught, euthanized and tested positive for rabies. “While this raccoon no longer poses a threat, any people or domestic animals that came in contact with a raccoon in that area between May 8 and 18 should receive a medical evaluation immediately,” said Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene.
The Health Department strongly advises that people take the following steps to prevent families and pets from rabies exposure:
• Never approach or touch wild animals, especially any raccoon, fox, skunk, or bat, particularly if it is behaving oddly or if it is seen in the daylight. These animals are the main carriers of rabies in the eastern United States.
• Avoid stray cats and dogs. Feral or unknown cats and dogs may also carry rabies. Report bites or scratches from these animals to your physician or the Health Department.
• Do not feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs. Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.
• Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
• If one of your domestic animals is bitten or otherwise interacts with a wild animal, notify the local Health Department and animal control officer at once.
If you are bitten, scratched, or licked by any of these animals, seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is fatal to both animals and humans once symptoms begin, but it can be prevented in humans if they receive vaccine and medication soon after exposure.
Finally, if in doubt, or if you have a question, call the Shenandoah County Health Department at 540-459-3733.
Additional information on rabies is available from the Virginia Department of Health at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control/.
The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/.