FRONT ROYAL - A motions hearing in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s $17.6 million civil lawsuit scheduled for Wednesday was delayed indefinitely because Warren County Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharp has recused himself from all EDA-related matters.
A recusal order states that Sharp cannot preside over the case because individuals either named as defendants or possible witnesses “are personal friends or former clients or persons with whom the judge has otherwise had regular association.” This, the order states, will "ensure that all parties can be confident the judge has no association with any persons who might be involved in a particular case."
The nine defendants in the embezzlement and misappropriation lawsuit include former EDA executive director Jennifer McDonald and two of her limited liability companies; ITFederal and its developer Curt Tran; Earth Right Energy Solar-Commercial LLC and its principals Donald Poe and Justin Appleton; and the late Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron.
Since the filing of the civil lawsuit, McDonald has been arrested and jailed without bond on 12 felony counts of embezzlement and obtaining money by false pretenses. The day she was denied bond, McEathron - who the EDA alleges conspired with McDonald to purchase land with EDA money - died in an apparent suicide.
The motions hearing was the second case delayed this week due to Sharp’s recusal, as McDonald was scheduled to enter a plea Monday on the 12 felony counts. New dates for both of the delayed hearings have not yet been set.
Missy Henry, former EDA administrative assistant and the only other person arrested related to the embezzlement scandal, has a Friday bond hearing scheduled.
She was denied bond in June as substitute Judge Thomas Horne wanted to leave her bail decision up to Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr, who presided over all other EDA cases up to that point.
Janice Shanks, the interim circuit court clerk, said Monday that Sharp became Warren County's presiding Circuit Court judge on July 1 and it is unclear whether Athey, who will become a Virginia Appeals Court judge in September, will be present Friday. She said on Wednesday that she does not believe Athey will hear Henry's case on Friday, but she is not positive.
She said Monday that it will ultimately be up to Judge Bruce D. Albertson, the chief judge of the 26th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, to appoint a judge to fill Sharp’s place.