Fall from Grace
A year ago, Midlothian Supervisor Ed Barber was being touted in local Democratic circles as a possible Lt. Governor candidate in Virginia. Now he is disgraced, and the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors, the Executive Committee of the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee and some of his constituents want him to resign.
Barber's defense team and Special Prosecutor Sandra Sylvester agreed to a plea agreement last week, allowing Barber to avoid a possible life sentence for two felony sex charges against him. As part of the agreement, he pled guilty to two misdemeanors for "sexual abuse" and admitted that he "touched the private parts of the victim [his 16year-old stepdaughter] against her will."
His punishment includes a two-year suspended sentence, three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and registering with the state's Sex Offender Registry. He must undergo a sex offender evaluation, which could require sex offender counseling.
He can continue as Midlothian supervisor through December 2007 (at an annual salary of $29,982) unless he resigns as requested by the board. At press time, Barber said he plans to remain on the board.
A petition with at least 513 valid signatures from voters of his district could cause the Chesterfield Circuit Court to decide whether he should be removed. The law specifies that the number of signatures required is ten percent of those who voted in the 2003 election when Barber ran unopposed.
Stressing that it is her personal view, Democratic spokesperson Lynne Cooper called for Barber to resign. "I helped elect Ed, but he has pled guilty to [using] such poor judgment," she said. In the past six months several persons "have come forward, expressing an interest in Ed's seat."
The Democratic statement released last Friday read in part: "The outcome of the court proceedings on Wednesday, June 28th, makes it inappropriate for Mr. Barber to continue to serve..."
Barber's wife, Terry, who is the mother of the victim, stood by her husband last week as did their daughters at the courthouse. Among others supporting him were business partner Pete Cleal, Midlothian Planning Commissioner Dan Gecker and former commissioner Will Shewmake.
Those in Barber's corner still say they believe in his innocence.
"Your guilt or innocence is not the issue in court," said Shewmake, an attorney who was not representing Barber. "It's what seven strangers think...regardless of the presumption of innocence because [the victim] is a minor. Ed acted on advice of [legal] counsel and took the certainty of no jail time."
"He'll be talking to his constituents about continuing serving," Shewmake added. "Now, he's having quiet time away with his family."
"A plea bargain is a compromise between the sides," said a trial attorney who was not involved in the case and declined to be identified. "Six months ago, Mr. Barber said he was innocent of the felony charges. The prosecution said it could prove the felony charges. Apparently, neither side was confident they could, so they settled in the middle."
"We accepted the plea agreement to avoid trauma to the victim," Sylvester explained after the hearing. "It resolved the case for the public and the victim."
She praised the detective work performed by the Chesterfield Police Department, who investigated Barber. "It was a thorough investigation," she said.
Sylvester also confirmed that her office looked into speculation in mid-June that the stepdaughter was going to recant her accusation. "We looked into that, and no one came forward," she responded.
Family attorney Sam Kaufman, of Cowan & Owen, P.C., who represented Mark Pitts and Alexandra Waymack Pitts, the father and stepmother of the victim, said the 16year-old "denied she would recant. It's 100 percent not true."
The Pitts family declined to be interviewed and were not present at the hearing last week. Speaking for the family, Kaufman said, "We're satisfied that it's over for the victim."
In earlier accusations, the victim allegedly told several persons she was "going to ruin Ed's career." Following the hearing there was no mention of those allegations.
Friends of Barber had earlier suggested that politics was involved. Barber is the lone Democrat on the Chesterfield board. Last week, there was no finger-pointing by the Barber camp.
"It's a healing time," said Shewmake.
Should Barber resign, the four Republicans on the board would appoint his successor. A Chesterfield Republican said the leading contenders were Jim Schroeder, currently the school board member from the Midlothian district, and Mark Tubbs. In 2003, Tubbs lost to Republican Art Warren in the Clover Hill supervisor race. He joined the Chesterfield Republican party last year and recently purchased a home in the Midlothian District.
"A Democrat has served the district well for 14 years," argued Cooper. "I hope the board would not use party affiliation to select a replacement."
Later this month, the Chesterfield school board is expected to decide if the school system will pay Barber about half of his $53,654 annual teacher salary.
Following his arrest last December, Barber was suspended without pay from his job as a physical education teacher at Crenshaw Elementary School.
"We'll be looking carefully at the exact wording of the judge's ruling," said School Board Chairman Marshall Trammell.