Defense attorney describes futility of RSW jail visit

By Joe Beck

FRONT ROYAL — A motion filed in Warren County Circuit Court a few days ago sheds light on mounting complaints from defense attorneys about what they describe as the failure of the newly opened Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail on U.S. 340-522 to grant them adequate access to their clients.

The complaints involve unusually long waits at the jail that sometimes end with attorneys giving up in frustration and leaving the visiting room without having seen their clients.

A motion filed by attorney Eric Wiseley asking that a client be released on a recognizance or other “reasonable” bond gives a detailed description of futile hours spent trying to see the jail inmate.

Wiseley’s client, Zachery Thomas Callas, 20, of West Virginia, is a convicted auto thief who remains in jail without bond after being accused of several probation violations. Judge Dennis L. Hupp denied the motion for bail but Wiseley said in an interview Friday that the jail began granting much easier access to Callas and other clients after the court hearing.

“At that point, I was given a visit with my clients but it wasn’t until I filed the motion that the jail allowed me to see my clients,” Wiseley said.

Wiseley, writing in the third person and in a tongue-in-cheek tone, said in the motion that “defense counsel is completely unable to provide competent assistance under these circumstances or any legal assistance at all. More distressingly, he is unable even to inform his clients of the reason for his inability to do so.”

A telephone voice mail message seeking comment from the RSW jail administration was not returned.

Wiseley’s motion also hinted strongly at the possibility of a lawsuit over what he contends is inadequate access to Callas and other clients.

Defense attorneys have been complaining about access to their clients since the jail opened in late June, but most have been hesitant to speak publicly and in detail about their experiences.

Wiseley’s motion cites June 22 to June 30 as a period when “there were no attorney visits or phone calls or mail permitted to the inmates.” Wiseley and other attorneys had no more than “episodic experiences attempting visits and contacts with clients” in subsequent days, according to the motion.

Wiseley said attempted phone calls to arrange attorney visits were unsuccessful until he was told July 2 that he could visit any time before 5 p.m. the same day.

The motion spells out how the attempted visit unfolded after Wiseley arrived at 2:15 p.m.:

“A friendly receptionist proceeded to call a guard who politely took defense counsel’s list of clients and escorted counsel to an attorney visit room around 2:15 p.m.

“Counsel waited in the attorney visit room behind glass for the next half hour, alone, dejected, and in poorer and poorer humor.

“At 2:45, defense counsel exited the visit room pressed his face against the glass door to the outside area, and knocked until someone appeared. Counsel was joined at the glass by a distinguished member of the local bar, a paralegal for another distinguished member of the local bar, and a sentencing coordinator for Loudon County’s public defender.

“The door swung open, presumably because jail staff realized defense counsel and his cell mates were patently being held for crimes we did not commit.

“The defense counsel was told thereafter that there would be no attorney visits until RSW could do a “headcount” of inmates, and that counsel should try again later.

“Defense counsel tried again at around 6:20 p.m. that same day. No one was in the reception area, and the door was locked. Defense counsel pressed an intercom buzzer.

“A man on the other side of the intercom button stated someone would be down in a minute.

“Ten minutes later, defense counsel pressed the button again. A voice at the other end said someone would be down in a minute.

“Two employees of the facility walked out around 6:40 p.m. When queried by defense counsel, they shook their heads apologetically, and implied that, not only did they not know what was going on in the facility, they weren’t sure anyone did. They acknowledged that a “head count” was ongoing.

“Another employee walked out soon thereafter. He completely ignored the presence of defense counsel.

“In any event, no one who emerged from the facility admitted defense counsel to the facility.

“Defense counsel left shortly after 6:45 p.m.

“On the morning of July 3, the facility phone line was busy continuously, and no new information could be gathered for preparation of this motion.

“Counsel for the defense concludes that the head count continues.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com