WISE — The Virginia Supreme Court has picked a substitute judge to hear three lawsuits involving former and current Pound town officials.
Retired 25th Judicial Circuit judge and former Virginia state legislator Malfourd W. Trumbo was appointed on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the 30th Judicial Circuit confirmed on Wednesday.
Trumbo’s appointment to the cases follows the March 23 recusal of all four judges in the 30th Circuit, which covers Wise, Lee and Scott counties and the city of Norton. 30th Chief Judge John C. Kilgore and judges Tammy S. McElyea, Jeff Hamilton and Ronald Elkins all cited an unspecified conflict in their recusal orders.
The three cases involve:
• A petition to remove Pound Mayor Stacey Carson from office for alleged abuse and misuse of office
• A lawsuit by Pound Town Council members Danny Stanley and Glenn Cantrell and by resident Sherron Dean — the spouse of former mayor George Dean — claiming council’s March 1 vote to appoint an interim council member was illegal
• A $1.358 million breach of contract lawsuit filed by town police officer and former town attorney Tim McAfee after he was dismissed from the attorney’s post in March
The removal petition was filed in December 2020 and was signed by Stanley, Cantrell, George Dean, then-council member Phil Cantrell Jr., former town deputy clerk Tamari R. Hayes, former council member James D. Pelfrey and 40 other town residents.
The petition was scheduled for trial on Friday but that has been continued, according to the Wise County Circuit Court Clerk’s office.
McAfee, who acknowledged in a statement filed in connection with the petition that he provided legal advice to unspecified persons about legal remedies for mayoral abuse of office, represented Stanley and Cantrell in the second suit. The two council members claim that council’s March 1 meeting vote to replace Phill Cantrell, Jr. — who resigned in February — with interim member Susan Downs-Freeman was illegal because the mayor is not a member of council under its charter.
The town charter specifies that the mayor can vote in a tie-breaking situation, although Stanley and Cantrell’s suit claims that she is not a voting member under state law. The two also claim that Downs-Freeman’s vote to remove McAfee as town attorney was also illegal since her appointment was allegedly illegal.
Downs-Freeman has attended council meetings since the suit was filed but has not participated in the meetings pending a decision in the suit.
In the third suit, McAfee seeks $1.358 million in damages from council members Downs-Freeman, Clifton Cauthorne and Marley Green and from the town. He claims breach of contract in his dismissal, saying that council approved a contract about three years ago giving him a six-year term.
McAfee also claimed in his suit that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights.
Town Attorney Charles Wright has filed motions to dismiss the Stanley-Cantrell suit, claiming that the charter provides for a five-member council governing body with the mayor as the presiding officer and tiebreaker.
In a separate motion, Wright also requested that McAfee be disqualified as Stanley and Cantrell’s attorney because of “inherent conflict” and the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. He cited McAfee’s representation of Stanley and Cantrell against the town — McAfee’s former client — and McAfee’s position as a part-time town police officer while representing the two.