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Late to Court, Lawyer Put in Jail

An assistant attorney general in the U.S. Virgin Islands was arrested Monday and held overnight in jail for being 10 minutes late to court. On Tuesday morning, after the lawyer apologized, the judge who ordered his arrest released him from custody and lifted his order setting bail at $10,000. The judge has reserved decision on whether the prosecutor was in contempt of court.

The arrest came about after AAG Jesse Bethel had yet to arrive 10 minutes after the 4 p.m. scheduled start of a change-of-plea hearing before V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall. With the two defense lawyers present and ready to begin, Judge Kendall issued a warrant for Bethel's arrest and set bail for his release at $10,000. Bethel had earlier objected to the hearing being held, asserting that the defendants misunderstood the government's offer of a plea agreement in a murder case. He was late to court because he was filing an appeal of the judge's decision to go forward with the hearing, he told the Virgin Islands Daily News.

Bethel's objection to the hearing stemmed from confusion over the government's offer of a plea. In a conference between the judge and the lawyers on Friday, the defense lawyer played a recording of a telephone message in which Bethel offered to accept a plea of involuntary manslaughter. After receiving the message, the defense lawyer accepted the offer. But in Friday's conference, Bethel maintained that he misspoke in the voice message and that the government's offer was for a plea of voluntary manslaughter.

The judge told the lawyers that he considered the voice message to be a valid plea offer. With the criminal trial slated to start Monday, the judge scheduled the change-of-plea hearing for Monday afternoon. Bethel told the judge then that he would not attend. On Monday morning, he filed a notice with the court that he disagreed with the judge's decision to hold the hearing and would file an appeal. It is not clear from the news report whether Bethel ultimately planned to appear at the hearing, but what is clear is that his tardiness earned him a night in jail. In the morning, he apologized to Judge Kendall. "I should have called the court and verified that I was running late," he later told the newspaper. The judge provided no comment to the newspaper, but said in court when he issued the arrest order that this was not the first time this had happened.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 5, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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