Defense attorney Ed Vaughan donated $500 to Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Latney’s re-election campaign and plans to help Latney out of a bind in his private practice.
Vaughan was one of eight local attorneys or firms who donated to Latney’s campaign. Overall, defense attorneys gave $4,750 of the $5,000 Latney raised over the summer.
The only donor listed on the report who was not a defense attorney was Supervisor Maxie Rozell.
“Anybody who gave Harvey Latney money did so without expectation,” Vaughan said.
All of the attorneys who donated to the campaign have had at least one case in Caroline County in the last six months.
But Latney said money made no difference in how he handled the cases.
“No one is getting any special treatment just because they think I’m the best person for the job,” he said. “These are people who believe in me and believe I’ve done a great job.”
A review of Caroline Circuit Court cases over the past six months shows a majority of those that involved donating attorneys were reduced, dropped or nol prossed (dismissed with the potential to bring the charge back at a later date).
But so were most of the cases involving attorneys who did not contribute to Latney’s campaign.
And the largest donor was Mark Murphy, who defended Donna Blanton in the slaying of her husband. Latney won a murder conviction in that case, but an appeals court ordered a new trial because of the jury selection.
Tony Spencer, a former Richmond prosecutor opposing Latney in the incumbent’s first contested election in 30 years in office, did not have any donations listed from defense attorneys on his most recent campaign finance report.
Spencer said he doesn’t think contributing attorneys got preferential treatment in Caroline. But he said the high number of dismissals and reductions in charges are a concern.
“With Mr. Latney in office, Caroline County is a defense attorney’s paradise,” he said. “If I were a defense attorney practicing in Caroline County, I’d contribute to Harvey Latney.”
A Richmond attorney who donated $250 to Latney’s election campaign said he did so because he thinks the Caroline justice system is fair and works well.
“I donated to him to maintain status quo,” said John LaFratta, who often works as a court appointed attorney in Caroline. “If I thought he gave preferential treatment, I wouldn’t practice in that court.”
Bill Neely, commonwealth’s attorney for neighboring Spotsylvania County, said it is not unusual for defense attorneys to donate to a prosecutor’s campaign.
“You have to raise money where you can,” Neely said.
Though Neely is unopposed this year, he said he sought funds from defense attorneys when he faced challengers in the past.
“I sent solicitations to every member of the bar,” he said.
Vaughan said he thinks the reason the majority of Latney’s campaign funds come from attorneys is because those are the people he sees regularly.
“You look for money from your friends,” Vaughan said. “And his friends happen to be defense attorneys.”
Vaughan also said he plans to give to a fund for Latney’s private law practice because, “You hope people do the right thing in the time of need.”
Latney owes clients about $300,000 for money missing from their estate accounts he was managing in his Richmond-based practice.
His secretary of 27 years, Sheila Boone, is charged with theft. Although Latney is not suspected to be at fault criminally, he is held responsible for repayment. His insurance carrier has refused to cover the loss.
Craig Cooley, a Richmond defense attorney, said he set up the fund and sent a letter soliciting donations because Latney “is not a high-income person but is a very high-integrity person.”
“He was victimized by a trusted employee,” Cooley said. “It could happen to any of us.”
Cooley also said he felt the fundraiser would have no effect on treatment in Caroline courts.
The only client Cooley has represented in Caroline Circuit Court was John Ames, who was charged with killing his neighbor in a dispute over a bull. Ames pleaded self-defense and was acquitted after a trial.
Cooley would not say how many people he sent the letter to, how many have donated or how much money has been raised.
Why not? Scared of what might come out if you released the information?
He said he doesn’t plan to try any more cases in Caroline anytime soon.