Portsmouth public defender Brenda Spry elected to judgeship, but some officials have concerns

Portsmouth

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth public defender Brenda Spry has been elected to be a Portsmouth Circuit Court judge.  

Spry was elected with 51 “yes” votes in the 100-member Virginia House of Delegates. She was elected in the Senate with 33 “yes” votes.

Her eight-year term will begin Feb. 16, according to the House resolution. In addition to Spry, Junius P. Fulton, III was also elected as a judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Norfolk on Tuesday night.

She was elected thanks to a member of Republican House leadership who flipped his vote from a “non-vote” to a “yes.” Because of that, Spry got the extra vote she needed to get to 51, the benchmark needed to be elected.

Spry had the support of Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).

Spry and Lucas were two in a group of 19 people charged in connection with a protest at the Portsmouth Confederate monument that resulted in a man being severely injured and the monument defaced. Charges were dropped in that case in November. 

Image provided to WAVY TV 10 of Spry at the monument protest.

According to Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D – Springfield) left open the opportunity to change votes longer than usual. Before Spry gained the 51st vote, he said leaving the vote open that long could result in her election to the judgeship.

“I’ve never seen that before,” Miyares told 10 On Your Side as we watched the fluctuating vote coming in. Miyares said he was shocked the speaker kept the vote open for about 30 minutes, allowing delegates to change votes, which some did.  

Del. Steve Heretick said he has issues with some professional complaints that have come to light against Spry, including her handling of an attempted capital murder of a police officer case and her involvement in the monument case.

10 On Your Side went to get comment from Spry at her office, she was not there, and then she didn’t return our calls.

He’s also concerned about a now-dismissed complaint filed by Prosecutor Brandon Wrobleski, who once served the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in Portsmouth, but now is in Suffolk. The complaint revolves around a case in which she represented a teen, Will Patterson Jr., who was accused of trying to kill a Portsmouth police officer in November 2017.

“All I asked for was some more time to deal with these issues that have surfaced … there was no reason we had to take the vote Tuesday … all I called for was for there to be transparency in how she handled the case,” Heretick said. 

Heretick questions whether Spry is fit to serve as a judge.

Wrobleski refused an on-camera interview, but gave written statements about the complaint he filed against Spry.

“… admitted ineffective assistance to hijack and derail the trial and conviction that were lawfully conducted…in a high-profile criminal case,” the complaint reads.

Wrobleski’s complaint was dismissed by the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission and the Virginia Bar Association only because it was a pending case. Wrobleski emailed back in forth arguing the issue, but the organizations refused to budge.

Patterson was convicted in 2018 of attempted capital murder in the shooting and injury of Portsmouth Police Officer Angelina Baaklini. Baaklini was shot five times, but survived. Patterson faced nine other charges in connection with the shooting.

In a court document granting the motion to vacate and set aside the verdict, Patterson’s defense council says he was incompetent at the time of the trial. The document says they were made aware of his mental health issues after the jury’s verdict in April 2018 but before sentencing.

Heretick finds that astounding.

“She waits until this defendant was convicted on every count, and then she raised this issue of competency?”

If 10 On Your Side was able to get ahold on Spry for comment Wednesday, we would have asked her about what presiding Judge William Moore — who has since retired — said about Spry in his final order to vacate and set aside the verdict in October 2020.

The document reads: “Failure of Defendant’s attorneys to adequately investigate their client’s mental state … constitutes a violation of Defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel.” 

Moore had no choice but to vacate and set aside the verdict, and then order a new trial, which is now pending.

“This is very serious and alleges professional misconduct at a very deep level,” Heretick said.

Heretick also takes issue with Lucas’ support of Spry, because they were both involved in the Confederate monument case in Portsmouth.

“Ms. Spry was a co-defendant with Louise Lucas, but I hope it takes more to become a judge than to be a co-defendant with Senator Lucas,” he said.

Heretick thinks the fast track was unnecessary.

Spry will be sworn in at the Portsmouth Judicial Center sometime in February, but no later than March 15.

Stay with WAVY.com for updates.

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