Downtown Pound. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

RICHMOND – The Wise County town of Pound is one step closer to retaining its charter.

Much to the chagrin of county and state officials, the small town had attracted outsized media attention over the years for a variety of problems, including a dysfunctional town council, an embezzlement scandal and serious deficiencies in its water system.

House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, last year introduced a bill that would have yanked Pound’s charter in November 2023 if it didn’t take significant steps toward setting itself straight. He also promised that if he saw progress, he would come back this session and seek to revoke that earlier bill.

That’s what he’s done with House Bill 1641, which unanimously cleared a House subcommittee Friday morning. It now goes to the full Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns.

“They’ve gone through a lot of changes,” Kilgore said of Pound, which has elected new council members and selected a new mayor. The council has been meeting regularly and has been working with the Virginia Municipal League on issues including budgeting. The town has sent out tax bills and hired an attorney – and, Kilgore said, has managed to do so without attracting a lot of attention.

“They’re not in the papers any more, thank goodness,” he said. 

Kilgore also thanked his legislative colleagues for taking up the issue during the 2022 session. “Without what we did last year, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “We had to shoot across the bow.”

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Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

House panel backs Williams bill on bail

Also on Friday, a Republican-controlled House panel backed a measure sponsored by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, that would reinstate presumptions against bail. Williams’ HB 1365, which advanced by a 5-3 party-line vote, seeks to repeal a criminal justice reform bill passed by Democrats in 2021 that eliminated the presumption against bond.

Presumptions against bail are a legislator-created list of offenses that result in a person accused thereof being held in jail until their case is resolved, which can sometimes take years.

“In this country we have a presumption of innocence, and we are talking about people accused of crimes here, not people who have been convicted of anything,” Rob Poggenklass with the nonprofit Justice Forward Virginia, which opposes Williams’ legislation, told members of the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee. 

“To be accused of something that you didn’t do and then to have the indignity of that when you know you didn’t do it, your name drags through the mud, you can lose your house and your job, or custody of your children, and a lot of awful things can happen in those first few days. We know that sometimes people are overcharged, and sometimes people are falsely accused,” Poggenklass said. 

On behalf of the Attorney General’s Office – which also supports the proposal – Deputy Attorney General Nicole Wittman told the panel that the measure was addressing a “grave issue of public safety.” 

Wittman cited a newspaper reporting that within a recent 60-day period in Chesterfield County, 48 people who were charged with domestic assault and battery on family members were released by the county magistrate without having to post any bond at all. 

“This notion that there should be a cooling off period for these violent crimes is reasonable,” Wittman said, also recalling a case in Loudoun County where – since the current law went into effect taking away the presumption against bond in these cases – a man was charged with domestic assault and battery and strangulation of his wife, but he was released without bond. 

“Despite the victim telling the commonwealth attorney there that she believed her husband would murder her if he was in fact released, he was released and shortly after did murder her by bludgeoning her to death with a hammer,” Wittman said. “These are real life stories, real people.”

In addition to creating a “rebuttable presumption” against bail for certain criminal offenses enumerated in the bill, Williams’ legislation also requires courts to consider specified factors when determining whether the presumption against bail has been rebutted and whether there are appropriate conditions of release.

Williams, an attorney from Stuart, said that “as somebody who understands innocent until proven guilty,” his proposal was aimed at making sure that there won’t be another homicide because the accused was released without bail. 

“I, too, had a client, who’s abusive, narcissistic, domestic violent, got out and killed her, and then he killed himself. This is a regular occurrence in the domestic violence world,” Williams said.

Williams’ legislation is now headed to the full committee. 

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.