VA. High Court vacates sentence of woman called ‘tramp’ by judge

Jan - 10

VA. High Court vacates sentence of woman called ‘tramp’ by judge

A decision by Roanoke County Circuit Judge Jack Matthews not to disqualify himself from sentencing a woman he called a tramp has been reversed by the Virginia Supreme Court.

In an order dated Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that Matthews erred when he refused to disqualify himself from sentencing Linda F. Overacre last June after calling her a tramp.

The justices ruled 5-2 to vacate Overacre’s sentence and send the case back to Roanoke County Circuit Court so that she can be sentenced by another judge.

Matthews, 80, is a retired Circuit Court judge from Galax who was designated last year to fill in for Roanoke County Judge F.L. Hoback, Sr. during Hoback’s extended illness. Matthews could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In 1983, Overacre, her boyfriend and another woman, pleaded guilty before Hoback to stealing $1,200 from Irvin Belcher, a Vinton grocer.

Sally Barrett, the other woman, stole the money while Overacre’s boyfriend, Marty McKee, distracted Belcher. Overacre acted as lookout.

Barrett gave McKee and Overacre $300 each and kept the rest of the money.

The next day, McKee and Overacre thought better of what they had done and returned their shares of the money to Belcher.

Hoback sentenced Barrett before he became ill and gave her three years of probation. Barrett had a criminal record and had not returned her share of the money.

Hoback was scheduled to receive background reports on Overacre and McKee and sentence them in January, but Matthews handled the cases instead because of Hoback’s illness.

In addition to other information, the background reports said that McKee and Overacre lived together.

Matthews sentenced McKee first, and told him that he was “living in lewd and lascivious cohabitation with some tramp.”

The judge said he would sentence McKee to five years of probation if he would stay away from Barrett and Overacre.

“You’ve got the keys to the penitentiary in your pocketáYou associate with this woman, you’re gone.”

When Matthews called Overacre’s case immediately after McKee’s, defense attorney Jonathan Rogers asked Matthews to disqualify himself because he had shown he was prejudiced against Overacre by calling her a tramp.

Matthews refused and said he resented Rogers’ contention because Rogers was violating the confidentiality of a remark that was made in chambers before the sentencing.

Rogers said he was not referring to any remarks Matthews made in chambers, but rather what he said when he sentenced McKee.

But Matthews replied, “I resent what you’ve said here today. I’m not going to disqualify myself and I give everybody a run for their money. You better understand that.”

Matthews then sentenced Overacre to six months of weekends in jail although, according to Rogers, she had no criminal record and had worked since she was 13.

After sentencing her, Matthews told Overacre: “This business of living together and not being married š saying you’re in love š and the lawyer says that might be wrong. It is wrong. And it’s a violation of all moral codes and of all law. It’s a violation of the law of Virginia and I don’t uphold it one particle. I have no apologies for it.”

Rogers appealed Matthews’ decision to sentence Overacre on the grounds that the judge was not only prejudiced against Overacre, but that he also was prejudiced against her attorney.

Matthews’ comments in both hearings showed his prejudice against Overacre, Rogers said. Rather than discussing the immorality of grand larceny, Matthews talked about the immorality of living together, he said.

Overacre had the least important role in the theft and had no criminal record, but she was the only one to receive jail time, Rogers said.

Matthews’ comments about resenting Rogers’ motion showed that he also was prejudiced against him, the defense attorney said.

In his petition for appeal, Rogers argued that Matthews “verbally assaulted” him for making his motion and then chastised him for defending his client’s love for her boyfriend.

Assistant Roanoke County Commonwealth’s Attorney Vince Lilley, who argued in opposition to the appeal, would not comment on the ruling Thursday, saying the case was still pending in court.

But in a brief filed in opposition to the appeal, Lilley said that Matthews’ decision was based only on information from the court proceedings.

Matthews, Lilley argued, “obtained a less-than-favorable impression,” of Overacre from her background report and “the impression was entirely justified.”

Overacre and McKee had different background reports that gave the judge different impressions of each, Lilley said in the brief.

The probation officer who prepared Overacre’s report described her as a “headstrong young lady” who had trouble keeping a job, having worked 11 different jobs since 1978, Lilley said.

Rogers said Thursday that in reversing Matthew’s decision, the Supreme Court has said that the judge’s comments were “wrong and unjust and did not reflect the way the criminal justice system in Virginia should work.”