Kanawha family law judge threatened twice

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 17, 2008


CHARLESTON – Similar to a Parkersburg dentist, two people in Kanawha County stood accused of making threats on a family law judge only to have their cases result in different outcomes.

Recently, The West Virginia Record reported on the trial of Dr. Dale E. Brum. In 2007, Brum was indicted by a Wood grand jury for making alleged threats on not only the life of Wood Family Law Judge Annette Fantasia, but also Parkersburg Police Officer John Pelfrey and C. Blaine Myers, a Parkersburg attorney.

In presenting the state's case against Brum in June, Wood County Prosecutor Ginny Conley said she intended to prove that Brum made viable treats against all three on Feb. 25, 2006. It was on this day that Brum received a letter from the state Supreme Court denying his motion to have Fantasia recused in his divorce from his ex-wife, Debra.

According to Conley, after receiving the letter, Brum's children reportedly overhead him saying "they should all be killed." As further evidence of Brum's desire to harm Fantasia, Pelfrey and Myers, Conley alleged Brum not only drove by the houses of all three, making threatening comments, but also stopped by a gun show.

In taking the stand in his defense, Brum admitted he acted "inappropriately" that day. Though he also admitted to uttering the phrase "the only solution was to kill them all" it was directed toward attorneys in general because, in his opinion, they are "moneysuckers."

Also, though he did drive by Fantasia's house later that afternoon, Brum said it was along the route to where his sister lived where he and his children where heading for dinner. Brum testified at no time did he make any threatening comments about Fantasia.

After deliberating for about an hour, a jury of nine women and three women found Brum not guilty of the charges.

Prior to the Brum case, a St. Albans man and Elkview woman were charged in separate cases for making threats on Kanawha Family Law Judge Jane Charnock Smallridge.

However, unlike Brum, the cases came to different conclusion as the man entered into a plea agreement, and the woman, who was a judicial employee at the time her alleged threat was made, won a reprieve when the state failed to bring a timely indictment.

Alleging parental alienation

According to court records, Cecil Allan Hill was indicted in May 2001 with intimidation of a public officer. A year earlier on April 11, 2000, Hill allegedly made two phone calls to Smallridge's work number referring to her as a "bitch" in both and that she was going to "die" in the second.

Also, it was believed Hill scrawled the word "biased" on Smallridge's docket sheet the day of April 20. The incidents occurred when family law judges were still in transition from the old family lawmaster system.

Records show it was not until Aug. 18 that Hill was arrested and charged with making the threats on Smallridge. A month earlier, Hill's then-girlfriend, Debra Smith, told police he not only admitted making the calls, but also scrawled similar graffiti on the bathroom walls one day awaiting copies of a hearing transcript.

Though a handwriting analysis of docket sheet proved inconclusive, Hill agreed to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of harassment of a public official on March 31, 2003. Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker suspended Hill's sentence and ordered him on three years supervised probation beginning July 11, 2003.

Also, Walker ordered Hill to 10 weekends in jail and to pay the court $20 a month to cover the costs of his probation. A year later, Walker granted a motion by Hill to not only reduce his jail time to four weekends, but also be relived of paying $2,345 for his court-appointed counsel.

Records show Hill successfully completed his probation on July 3, 2006, reimbursing the court $1,061.

Despite not being able to take the stand and explain himself like Brum, in a letter dated May 19, 2000, Hill alleged his ex-wife, Penny, was alienating their three children against him.

"Their mother has programmed the children against me so they won't talk to me," he said in his letter. "I had to finally get my phone number changed because of her abuse to them, to force them to talk down to me."

Threats from the inside

Less than a year after the Hill case came to an end, the one against Tammy Lee Jones-Fridley began.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha Magistrate Court by Detective S.D. Snuffer with the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, Jones-Fridley was arrested on June 23, 2005, and charged with retaliation against a public official. A day earlier, Snuffer was summoned to where Jones-Fridley once worked at the Kanawha Circuit Clerk's Office to investigate allegations she made against Smallridge the week before.

In his complaint, Snuffer said one of Jones-Fridley's co-workers, Ida Hayes, had a casual conversation with her on June 15. During the conversation, Haynes said Jones-Fridley made "comments about how unfair Judge Charnock [Smallridge] was."

Also, Jones-Fridley reportedly said to Haynes that she would like to ram Smallridge's PT Cruiser parked in the county parking garage, but also, "I wonder how hard it would be to get a gun into the building?"

After discouraging her from carrying out her threats, Haynes reported her conversation with Jones-Fridley to her supervisor though records are unclear as to who that was. After taking Haynes' statement, Snuffer talked with Smallridge and discovered that Jones-Fridley was engaged in "a bitter child custody dispute" with her ex-husband.

Apparently, Jones-Fridley's anger was directed at Smallridge following her ruling to have Jones-Fridley's children removed from her care. Though records are unclear if they are one in the same, but the last hearing held in Jones-Fridley's case came on June 7, a week prior to her alleged threat against Smallridge.

Also, Smallridge let Snuffer know that Jones-Fridley left "threatening and harassing" messages on her ex-husband's answering machine.

A month after her arrest, Jones-Fridley's court-appointed counsel, Melissa Carleton, made a motion on July 20 that the Kanawha County Prosecutor's Office be recused from handling the case because of then-Prosecutor William Charnock being Smallridge's brother.

On Sept. 27, Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib sent a letter to then-Chief Justice Joseph Albright stating the desire of all Kanawha Circuit judges to recuse themselves from the case. On Oct. 7, Albright appointed Jackson Circuit Judge Thomas C. Evans III to the case.

A month later on Nov. 17, Mason County Prosecutor Damon Morgan was appointed special prosecutor.

Records show no other activity occurred in the case until May 25, 2007, when Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles E. King, who by rotation was chief judge, dismissed the case. King dismissed the case for the failure of the state to present Jones-Fridley's case to the grand jury within a year of her case being bound over.

Though he was unable to say why he declined to prosecute the case due to some incomplete paperwork, Morgan confirmed the case against Jones-Fridley is officially closed.

According to the Kanawha County Commission, Jones-Fridley was employed as a deputy circuit clerk from May 15 to June 22, 2005. She was to be paid an annual salary of $18,000.

All family law judge seats, including the 10 new ones created last year, are up for re-election this November. Beginning in 2009, family law judges, like circuit judges, will serve for an 8-year term.

A Republican, Smallridge is running against Charleston attorney Ken Ballard in the only contested family law race in Kanawha County.

Kanawha Circuit Court, Case Nos. 01-F-235 (Hill) and 05-CRM-581(Jones-Fridley)

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