CHRISTIANSBURG — Jonathan Preston Fisher stood on crutches before judges in Salem and Montgomery County this week, not as a defense attorney but as a defendant.
Since late last year, the Blacksburg-based lawyer has faced a string of conduct-related court actions.
On Tuesday, Salem General District Court Judge Jacqueline Talevi dismissed an action in which Fisher could have been held in contempt of court. Fisher was accused of failing to give the court a North Carolina man’s driving record in a speeding ticket case. Under Virginia law, contempt of court can be punished with fines and jail time.
John Lichtenstein, Fisher’s attorney, said the Salem court found that Fisher didn’t intentionally run afoul of the court’s process and took into account Fisher’s assurances to better comply in the future, Lichtenstein said.
A similar case was dismissed in Montgomery County General District Court on Monday. There Fisher had been ordered to show cause for why he failed to appear to represent a client at trial on Jan. 9 and risked being found in contempt of court.
Lichtenstein argued that although Fisher failed to appear for his client, there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Fisher intended to disregard his duty or undermine the authority of the court. He made a motion to strike the case.
“The prosecution was here. The case was set for trial,” said substitute Judge Stephanie Maddox, who was assigned to the case after Montgomery County judges recused themselves. “Mr. Fisher was not here. He didn’t appear.
“He’s guilty,” the judge added.
Furthermore, Maddox told Lichtenstein that Fisher had not given the court any reasonable explanation for the incident. So Lichtenstein put Fisher on the stand and questioned him about medical and psychological issues that have afflicted his practice since last fall, when many of his legal troubles began.
Fisher, who built a reputation as a tenacious DUI defender with television ads and a heavy caseload, spoke to The Roanoke Times last month about his struggles with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones disease. He detailed similar problems to the judge on Monday.
Fisher walks with crutches and customized shoes that compensate for a shortened right leg. Over time, Fisher has said he has suffered more than 50 broken bones. He told Maddox that he depends on using his arms to work crutches that allow him to stand and walk, but an arm injury late last year left him immobile. That and the loss of a staff member threw his practice into chaos.
He said he suffers from depression and that his injuries have left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which also affected his work.
“Things got missed,” Fisher said.
Fisher testified that he failed to put the Jan. 9 date on his calendar and was not aware he was needed in court “until the clerk called.”
He described the incident as embarrassing and said it is “not reflective of the work I do for my clients. I want people to know I do good work, and I care. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
Fisher said he is aggressively dealing with his physical and emotional issues and has cut his caseload down significantly. He also said he has hired a new staffer and made several other administrative changes to keep better track of his calendar.
After Fisher’s testimony, Maddox continued to chastise him for not handling his scheduling difficulties better, but she also said that “it looks like the issues are being addressed.”
Fisher faces other legal problems, including misdemeanor citations in Roanoke and Salem tied to failing to appear for his clients’ hearings.
He was found guilty of contempt earlier this year in Salem and Roanoke general district courts, according to online court records. He has appealed both cases to their respective circuit courts. The Salem matter is set to be heard on June 20, and the Roanoke case is scheduled for June 27. Five other contempt of court charges against Fisher have been dismissed or deferred.
Fisher’s former advertising agency has also sued him for unpaid bills that it says run into tens of thousands of dollars.
And, in March, a Floyd County Circuit Court judge fined Fisher $100 for being late to court and imposed $500 in civil sanctions after Fisher swore at a prosecutor and threatened to sue the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.
Staff writer Jeff Sturgeon contributed to this story.