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Protesters call for investigation into judge who jailed witness in domestic violence case

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protests against James fisher

Activists outside the Loudoun County Courthouse condemned James Fisher, a judge who sentenced the witness in a domestic violence case to jail. 

Protesters outside the Loudoun County courthouse Thursday denounced a local judge who sent the alleged victim in a domestic violence case to jail on a contempt charge.

“This judge shouldn’t be on the bench,” said Lisa Sales, a women’s rights activist and domestic violence survivor who organized the gathering of about 30 people.

Sales called for an investigation into Judge James P. Fisher and more transparency from the state’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission, which is tasked with fielding complaints about judges and operates largely in secret. Fisher was commonwealth's attorney in Fauquier County from 2011 to 2019.

Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman described the turn of events that led 33-year-old Katie Orndoff to be held in jail for two days as misogynistic and patriarchal.

“This will not stand in Loudoun County,” she said.

Fisher ordered Orndoff jailed as she was testifying against her boyfriend in a felony domestic violence case. More than an hour into her testimony, Fisher stopped the proceedings to question whether she was intoxicated — a subject that had come up during what prosecutors described as a difficult cross examination. She said she had smoked marijuana the morning of the trial, which occurred in the afternoon.

He immediately ordered her jailed for 10 days and she was removed from the courtroom by deputies. She served two days before he released her on bail while she appealed the charge. Meanwhile, he declared a mistrial in the domestic violence case.

Prosecutors and lawyers for Orndoff both say she did not appear intoxicated and that Fisher’s inquiry violated Orndoff’s rights. They also note that marijuana is legal and it was never established that Orndoff was actively under the influence.

A hearing had been scheduled for Thursday to reconsider the contempt charge, but in a filing Fisher called the motion to vacate “wholly without merit.”

Among other things, he noted that Orndoff’s attorneys had already appealed the case to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

A hearing was also canceled in the domestic violence case against Orndoff’s partner, James Page Phillips, who is accused of punching her in the face twice. If found guilty, it would be his third offense.

But Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj said she doubts the case will advance given Fisher’s actions.

“It has made the prosecution of this nearly impossible,” said Biberaj at Thursday’s courthouse rally.

That said, Biberaj said her office would not give up on the case if Orndoff remains willing to testify — something she said remains to be seen.

“I don’t know if Mrs. Orndoff, as any victim in this case, would subject themselves to that travesty.”

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