Loudoun County Judge James Fisher, brings disrepute to the court, violates community trust, and discourages victims from reporting domestic and sexual violence crimes. Fisher engenders a culture of fear at the courthouse which curtails zealous advocacy on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants as attorneys worry they will be held in contempt and jailed.
Court pleadings reveal Fisher’s actions exhibit a pattern of sex discrimination as he appears to target women or their counsel. Upon public outcry in the cases of Katie Orndoff, a domestic violence victim, and Rachel Virk, a defense attorney, many have contacted me to share their stories. More than half a dozen stepped forward while others wanted only for me to be aware of their experiences, fearful that if their identities were revealed they would face retaliation by Fisher, or worse, their clients’ cases would be adversely impacted. I cannot help but think how the actions of this judge mirror those of sexual and domestic violence abusers who through power and control dominate their victims.
Attorneys express trepidation in arguing too forcefully for clients as they are caretakers of children. One attorney who is a single parent whose husband passed, felt compelled to make advanced childcare arrangements should Fisher jail her. Of the many that recounted their experiences with Fisher, eight have gone on record, and six of eight scenarios involve women or attorneys representing women.
In several cases, Judge Fisher made up “facts,” falsified records, and ordered courtroom personnel to sign orders to cover his mistakes. Thankfully, transcripts, audio, and video recordings provide transparency in judicial proceedings. The records demonstrate Fisher’s improper and illegal actions, showing why the public has no faith in his ability to sit impartially as a judge. He has punished lawyers for not permitting him to illegally investigate their client’s matters and has intimidated and punished witnesses.
While other judges almost never make contempt findings, Fisher appears drunk on the power and has frequently charged or threatened to charge others. He ordered an illegal assault – a post-conviction blood draw – on Orndoff because he thought she was intoxicated and directed six deputies haul her away to serve 10-day’s jail time. Despite Fisher’s allegations, the record is clear that Ms. Orndoff does not sound or appear as though she is under the influence. It is disturbing that, after public outcry, Fisher made even more “false findings of fact”.
Fisher has subjected women to strip searches and has declared laws enacted by the General Assembly “unconstitutional” because he doesn’t agree with them. It appears Fisher’s actions represent the continuation of a pattern of behavior exhibited when he was a prosecutor. Then, he was found to have engaged in prosecutorial and investigative misconduct. Fisher has created a judicial legacy in which he intimidates witnesses, engages in improper judicial investigations, bullies counsel, ignores the law, and engages in a sort of vigilante justice and cronyism that supports his personal, rather than impartial perspective of justice. Such egregious behavior should be reviewed by the State Police and the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission, a constitutionally created body in Virginia which investigates matters of judicial misconduct.
The Commonwealth can’t tolerate a judge with no respect for truth and victims. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, launched over 30 years ago to provide education and create awareness, to hold abusers accountable, create and update legislation, and support survivors. We need to engage in dialogue, develop actions that work to create conditions that encourage victims to report, promulgate better public policy, and provide education starting in the formative years, instead of reinforcing misogynistic systems that revictimize victims. Domestic and sexual violence are the most underreported crimes in America and it’s no wonder why. American jurisprudence could use some modernizing!
Judges ought to be trauma-informed and be required to participate in regular training that covers the topics of domestic and sexual violence before being empowered by a gavel to make decisions in the lives of victims. Had he attended training, Judge Fisher may have been better equipped to realize that Ms. Orndoff was uneasy and filled with anxiety as she sat testifying before her assailant, a man already twice convicted of domestic violence, however nothing justifies his falsifying a record.
Lisa Sales, sexual assault survivor and advocate
For assistance, please know you are not alone, and confidential support is available 24/7/365 at the Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).