CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – A public official has been indicted on a felony charge in Chesapeake.

A grand jury returned a direct indictment against City Council member Amanda Newins Tuesday, charging her with a financial crime. 10 On Your Side has confirmed this is related to a lawsuit we reported on last month that alleges she abused her great aunt and uncle.

Newins, through her criminal defense attorney, said the charge against her of financial exploitation of vulnerable adults “is absolutely untrue.”

Mugshot of Chesapeake City Council member Amanda Newins.

Newins was just elected to City Council in November.

Her great aunt Shirley Davis filed a $850,000 lawsuit six months ago, saying Newins abused her and her late husband Bobby, who had Alzheimer’s Disease.

Part of the allegations in the civil case claimed Newins, a practicing attorney, transferred ownership of the Davis’ home in Kempsville to herself.

That leads to the indictment on one count of financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. This charge focuses on the $330,000 home and is treated by the courts similar to grand larceny.

A conviction on this felony charge would carry up to 20 years in prison and would result in Newins being removed from office.

Regent Law School Associate Dean of Academic Programs Brad Jacob said a lawyer being indicted of a crime wouldn’t jeopardize their license to practice law, but being convicted is a different story.

“A crime about financial misdealings, if the individual were guilty of that crime, (it) probably would lead to the state bar having a proceeding to revoke the law license. But first, you’d have to wait until the trial plays out to see if the individual is actually guilty of something,” he said.

However, he said being convicted of a crime isn’t the end all be all. The state bar looks at various things before revoking a lawyer’s practice license including going through a character and fitness review.

“If someone is convicted of a crime, even that doesn’t necessarily mean they lose the license to practice law,” Jacob said. “You would have a separate proceeding before the state bar, and they would determine whether the crime that the person was guilty of would impact their ability to practice law.”

Defense attorney Kristin Paulding sent this statement Tuesday afternoon to 10 On Your Side:

“We are disappointed that the Commonwealth has decided to charge Amanda with this offense. Amanda was practically raised by her uncle and the allegation that she financially exploited him, is absolutely untrue. We look forward to the time when Amanda can finally tell her story.

“The indictment comes on the heels of a civil lawsuit that was filed by her family members. That lawsuit was not filed until weeks before the election for City Council. It is sad to see the same individuals who were committed to destroying Amanda’s career are also supporting this criminal charge.

“We intend to diligently fight this criminal charge and show that Amanda’s actions were appropriate and in no way rise to the level of financial exploitation.”

Jacob said if a lawyer is brought before the state bar’s disciplinary board, revoking a license to practice isn’t the only thing that could happen.

“First of all, they might not remove your license entirely; they might suspend it,” Jacob said. “So, based on the nature of the crime, they might say “OK, you’re going to have a year suspension from the practice of law and then you would have your license back again.”

But if someone’s licensure is taken away, there are ways to bounce back.

“You could always petition for reinstatement later,” Jacob said. “How likely that is, again just depends on the facts of the situation.”

Because Newins is a public official, a special prosecutor from Roanoke County investigated the case and brought the charge forward.

The Chesapeake Commonwealth’s Attorney issued a statement Tuesday afternoon:

“On September 15, 2022, the Chesapeake Police publicly reported that there was an active criminal investigation in this matter. That same day, my office petitioned the Circuit Court to appoint a special prosecutor. The court appointed the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the County of Roanoke to investigate this matter. My office has taken no part in the charging decisions or the procedural process of this case.”

Matthew R. Hamel, Chesapeake Commonwealth’s Attorney

Hamel is among a handful of elected officials who, during Newins’ campaign seeking office last year, stated he was revoking his support of Newins, even though he had never publicly supported her prior.

Newins, a practicing attorney, was one of five candidates endorsed by the Republican Party of Chesapeake. At the time, she lumped Hamel into “a group of individuals who have worked tirelessly against me for the past 7 months.”

The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in November. Newins’ next court date on the criminal charge is unclear.

In a statement issued following Newins’ indictment, Chesapeake Mayor Rick West asked that people hear Newins’ side.

“City Council is elected to pass policies and to hire a City Manager to carry out those policies. Nothing has happened nor will anything happen to change that. The citizens in Chesapeake clearly understand only one side of the accusations against Councilman Newins have been presented. They will wait to hear her side before making judgements. If we ever allow mere allegations to affect how we govern we will have abandoned our democratic principles.”