Judge plans exit from cigarette case

WOODSTOCK – The two-year long struggle to bring a contentious cigarette smuggling case to trial lengthened again Wednesday when Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp said he would recuse himself from the case.

Hupp said his decision likely means another judge will have to be appointed to preside over the remainder of the case. Defense attorney David Downes predicted the case, which involves dozens of charges against two defendants, could last up to two or three more years and even longer if the outcome is appealed.

Hupp recused himself after receiving a motion from Downes that would compel Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola to enter into a plea agreement. Downes said the two attorneys had reached an agreement to settle the case in early November but Campola reneged on it. Campola has denied making any agreement.

Hupp said he knew both attorneys well from their frequent appearances before him. Ruling on the motion will require an evidentiary hearing at which Downes and Campola will testify against each other, and the judge must determine which testimony is more credible.

Hupp said it would be “extremely awkward” for him to make such a ruling, given the certainty that Campola and Downes will both be bringing more cases before him in the future.

Hupp said once he recuses himself for the evidentiary hearing, it is unlikely he will be allowed to return to hear the rest of the case.

“That’s the prospect we’re faced with,” Hupp said.

One of the two defendants in the case, John Taveras, is scheduled to go on trial March 22. Taveras is to be followed by Thaer Nimer Khashman on April 19.

Hupp said the impending evidentiary hearing and the uncertainty over who will take over as judge will require rescheduling the trials.

“It changes the procedural posture of this case dramatically,” Hupp said.

Hupp’s recusal will require Judge Thomas Wilson IV, the chief judge in the 26th judicial district, to appoint a new judge.

In another matter, Hupp ordered Khashman jailed and imposed an additional $150,000 bond on him after Campola presented evidence that the defendant had violated the terms of his initial $50,000 bond.

Khashman, who lives in New York City, had been out on bail, but Campola accused him of obtaining a new passport after he had been ordered to surrender the one he possessed at the time of his arrest.

Downes argued that his client had made the five-hour trip from New York to Virginia 15 or 16 times for each of his scheduled court appearances since he was indicted two years ago. Downes said Khashman’s reliable attendance showed he was no flight risk.

Downes also contended that his client could be in jail for years before the dozens of charges against him have been resolved.

“We could literally be another two or three years trying these cases, and then there’s appellate issues,” Downes said.

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