Choice of two courts: Basketball or criminal

Floyd County Circuit Judge Mike Fleenor
In my profession, I spend a lot of time of two varieties of courts: Gym courts for high school athletic events and criminal courtrooms to cover news about crime.

As freezing conditions continued overnight in Floyd County and Southwestern Virginia from the winter storm that dumped rain, freezing rain, sleet, and up to six or more inches of wet, sticky snow on us, we see the Lady Buffaloes basketball matches against Jame River moved from Tuesday to Wednesday night, where the boys also face the same opponent.

This may take some jiggling of schedules, since the Three Rivers District website shows the JV teams for both the ladies and the guys set to start at 5:30 p.m. and the two varsity games set for 7 p.m.

Maybe the JV games will be moved to the old gym (the schedule doesn’t say) or the games may begin earlier than 5:30 p.m. Between weather and COVID-19, last-minute schedule changes are part of life in school athletics.

Weather, apparently, is not affecting the beginning of a new term of the Circuit Court at the Floyd County Courthouse, scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. with several hearings on plea agreements and possible trials, although two sentencing are continued to another date.

The Court has changed since I first covered it from 1962-65 while attending Floyd County High School. It was usually held on the first Tuesday of each month if they had enough cases, and years could pass between jury trials. When editor Wanda Combs asked me to resume covering the court in 2005, after returning to the county after 40 years on the road as a newspaperman and photojournalist, the court dates were twice a month, with longer dockets — mostly drug cases involving crystal methamphetamine, which had reached epidemic proportions in the area.

Jury trials were still rare, but the ones held often involved vicious attacks, lurid sex cases involving minors. Besides meth cases, we started seeing the growth of charges involving child pornography and abuse of underage minors, frequently at the hands of relatives.

We can expect more jury trials in the coming months, partly because of a backlog built up by the COVID-19 pandemic and also because Virginia’s law now puts sentencing in the hands of judges and not the juries.

Depending on what happens with the pandemic, we should see a busier court season with more trials.

In other words, here comes the judge, and the juries, and more and more cases.

Personally, I’d prefer to spend more time on the basketball courts, photographing young athletes at their best, than sitting on a hard court bench for hours covering the sordid details of others at their worst.

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