Loudoun County

Judge Defends Contempt Charge for Woman Who Smoked Pot Before Testifying

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Attorneys argued Thursday that a judge was wrong when he jailed a woman as she testified about being assaulted because she admitted smoking marijuana before appearing in court.

In September, Katie Orndoff was testifying in a Loudoun County, Virginia, courtroom about domestic violence allegations when Judge James Fisher told her she seemed under the influence.

“I want to know what you’ve taken prior to today, prior to coming in here today, that has affected your demeanor?” he asked.

“I mean, honestly, I smoked marijuana,” she said.

He then charged her with contempt of court.

Her attorney, Thomas Plofchan, asked the judge to vacate the charge, arguing Orndoff did nothing to meet the standard for contempt. 

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has said that the standard for contempt is that you have to engage in behavior that actually obstructs the court and you have to intend to do that,” he said.

Fisher conceded Orndoff did not intend to disrupt court but said he had a duty to also protect the defendant’s rights and that Orndoff kept straying from the questions asked of her. 

Fisher rejected the suggestion his decision to jail Orndoff would discourage victims from coming forward.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, who also argued on Orndoff’s behalf, said publicity about the case already has taken a toll.

“When you think about somebody coming to court under subpoena so they can testify in a case where they’re a victim and they end up being the one going to jail, I don’t know how it concludes any differently than that could be you,” she said.

Several dozen people went to court to show support for Orndoff Thursday, including other victims who say they are troubled by what they heard. 

“I worry about out American institutions who continue to revictimize victims,” Lisa Sales said.

Fisher is holding off on a ruling, telling the attorneys he hasn’t fully read the 38-page case Orndoff’s lawyer filed a month ago.

Orndoff’s lawyer says if the judge refuses to vacate the contempt charge, they will appeal. 

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