Judge W. Dale Houff again postponed proceedings in a case involving three former Consulate Health Care employees accused of varying charges of patient abuse and stealing drugs.

Last year, Candida Hornick, Leslie Winner and Nancy Tusing were charged separately with  falsifying patient records and taking drugs from patients. The case has been delayed on several occasions due to miscommunication, witnesses for the commonwealth not appearing and for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last time the women appeared in court was in March when the commonwealth’s witnesses did not appear for the second straight appearance. At the time, Houff said he was frustrated with the slow pace of the case.

The case was delayed again in March when the COVID-19 pandemic slowed court proceedings around the country. As states began to open up their courts, with heavy restrictions in place, the women were scheduled to appear on Monday but key witnesses were not present.

Bryan Layton, assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Shenandoah County, said that two of the commonwealth’s witnesses could not attend the proceeding Monday because they are working in facilities that have high COVID-19 patient counts. One of the witnesses still works at Consulate Health Care in Woodstock and the other works in Pennsylvania.

Because the case is “document intensive,” Layton said, and many of the documents are hand-written, moving forward without the witnesses in the courtroom would have been inappropriate.

Charles Ramsey, a defense attorney who is representing Winner, argued that it was time for the court to allow his client and the co-defendants to move on. He asked for the case to be dismissed or for the commonwealth to file a motion of nolle prosequi, effectively dismissing the case with the possibility of returning to it later.

Ramsey argued that his client, who was cleared by a professional board in January to continue working as a nurse, has not been able to work since the charges were filed and that by extending the case, it only puts more pressure on his client.

Ramsey argued that the case should be dropped until “they’re ready to prosecute.”

If the commonwealth files the nolle prosequi motion, prosecutors will be allowed to return to the case later with direct indictments of the three women.

Aaron Burgin, the attorney representing Hornick, said a nolle prosequi dismissal would prejudice each of the women because the evidence gathered by prosecutors has not been presented in court.

Houff agreed with Layton that without witnesses in the courtroom the case needed to be delayed.

These are “serious charges of fraud and deceit at a nursing home,” Houff said. “We need to see if there is a basis for it.”

Houff set the next appearance for the case at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 17. He said that was the last time the case would be continued and if it didn’t move forward then he would dismiss the case.

Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com