Wheeler Case On Hold

Published 4:23 pm Thursday, June 6, 2013

CUMBERLAND – Although Coy W. Leatherwood, a citizen of Cumberland's fifth district, says he wants to withdraw his petition against Cumberland County Supervisor Parker Wheeler, it may not be that easy.

Leatherwood told The Herald that filing the petition wasn't something he did on his own. Instead, he says he was approached by “prominent people in Cumberland County” and asked to do it.

Leatherwood agreed and followed through, collecting 73 signatures on a petition and filing a case in Circuit Court requesting Wheeler be removed from office.

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However, Leatherwood says he now believes his case against Wheeler is a “sure enough loser.” Worse yet, if Wheeler wins the case, it could cost the County tens of thousands of dollars, Leatherwood says, something he doesn't think Cumberland can afford.

When approached by The Herald Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler said he had no comment at this time.

Even though Leatherwood may want to drop it, the case is no longer his to drop.

“I think they want to withdraw the petition, but I'm the only one who can do that. And I can't do that until I'm appointed,” says Robert Beasley, Powhatan County Commonwealth's Attorney.

Although it is not official yet, Beasley expects to be appointed to represent the Commonwealth as the prosecuting attorney in the case. However, the order appointing him has not been signed off on yet, he says, due to a “little paper work snafu.”

The Cumberland Commonwealth's Attorney office confirmed that they had filed an order for special prosecutor, requesting that a new prosecutor be appointed for the case, earlier this week.

Beasley explained that the local commonwealth's attorney will often recuse him or herself from a case against one of the county's supervisors because of a possible conflict of interest. The commonwealth's attorney's office receives financial support from the County through the board of supervisors.

The fact that a prosecuting attorney has not yet been appointed to the case is one of several reasons why a court date, originally set for Wednesday, June 5, has been postponed, Beasley says.

Wheeler had been ordered to appear before the Cumberland Circuit Court on Wednesday to show cause why he should not be removed from his office as a supervisor.

Whatever his defense may be, the case against Wheeler, says Leatherwood, isn't looking good.

Leatherwood says that he decided to withdraw the petition after speaking to several people “who knew what was going on… attorneys and judges.”

Leatherwood says he spoke with Beasley, who he expected to be the prosecuting attorney. “We agreed, after talking, that the case was weak and, and probably would lose it, most likely would lose the case,” Leatherwood said.

Beasley confirmed that he had spoken with Leatherwood regarding the case.

However, he was not prepared to discuss the substance of their conversation or comment on the actual case until he is officially appointed.

Leatherwood says his primary reason for dropping the case is the potential cost to the County.

“If I lost the case, which I was going to do. I mean, it was almost a fact that Parker (Wheeler) was going to…win it. When Parker won it, Cumberland County had to pay his attorney fees.”

“I was not willing to run the risk and the chance of it going through court, and pretty much knowing I was going to lose it any way, to see Cumberland get in that kind of debt,” Leatherwood concluded. He thought Wheeler's attorney fees could be as high as $20,000.

As reported previously in The Herald, Virginia Code outlines that if the case is dismissed in favor of Wheeler, the court may require Cumberland County to pay court costs or reasonable attorney fees, or both, for Wheeler.

A petition to remove two Cumberland supervisors was filed over 15 years ago. The court had the County pay for the supervisors' attorney fees, which cost a total of $13,000.

The Circuit Court can remove a supervisor for “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence” when it is determined to have a “material adverse effect” upon the conduct of the supervisor's office, according to state code.