On Sunday, October 1, 2023, the Roanoke Times reported that Judge Onzlee Ware of Roanoke Circuit Court has been accused of trading legal help for sex, leading to his absence from the court since September 12, 2022. The allegations were made in a court filing on August 30, 2022, by defendant Timothy Church, who claims that Ware promised to provide legal advice to Church’s mother in exchange for sex. The case has raised questions about the transparency of the judicial system and the accountability of judges.
Onzlee Ware allegedly met the said woman, Grace Church at a community event in 2018, where her son was facing trial for murder. Ware gave Church’s nephew his card and later asked her why she hadn’t called him when they met again at another event. Church, who was desperate to save her son, eventually agreed to meet Ware at a restaurant, where he offered to help her son’s case in exchange for a sexual relationship. Church and her son, Timothy Mwandi Church, made the allegations in a new court filing dated Aug. 30, 2022. Ware, a former state lawmaker, was on the Roanoke juvenile court bench at the time of the alleged affair.
According to court records, Ware told Church that he was friends with Roanoke Circuit Judge Christopher Clemens, who would be presiding over her son’s case and told her to tell her son to choose a bench trial before a judge instead of a jury. After her son was convicted in September 2019 of the killing of 60-year-old motel owner Ishvarlal Patel, Ware told her to tell her son to dismiss his attorney, Dirk Padgett, and replace him with another attorney, Patrick Kenney.
Church did as Ware instructed, and Kenney was appointed to represent her son. Ware told her that she shouldn’t worry about the sentencing because her son’s case was in good hands with Clemens as presiding judge and Kenney as defense attorney and that her son would receive less than seven years in prison. However, it’s unclear if Clemens knew about Ware’s relationship with Grace Church, or if Clemens had ever talked with Ware about the case.
Ware last appeared in court on September 12, 2022, 12 days after the allegations were made public. Since then, cases that were being adjudicated by Ware have been redistributed to other judges, but the reason for his absence and potential return date remains unclear.
The Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (JIRC), which investigates allegations of misconduct against judges, has the power to suspend a judge with pay if it finds probable cause to believe that the judge’s continued performance of judicial duties poses a threat to the public interest. However, complaints against judges are not made public, and JIRC only files a complaint against a judge in the Supreme Court of Virginia in cases where it finds charges to be “well-founded and of sufficient gravity to constitute the basis for retirement, censure, or removal.”
The case highlights the need for greater transparency and accountability in the judicial system. While the JIRC has the power to investigate and discipline judges, the lack of public information about the process raises concerns about the system’s ability to police itself. As the public continues to call for greater accountability, it is important for the judicial system to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and ethical conduct.
Source: Roanoke Times