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Former Roanoke judge accused of paying hush money to ex-client over sexual relationship

Former Roanoke judge accused of paying hush money to ex-client over sexual relationship

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A former Roanoke Valley judge has been called to a hearing before the state bar amid allegations that he paid a past client to keep quiet about a sexual relationship.

John Weber III, who’s now in private practice, had operated a local law office since 1993 when he was appointed to a seat as a 23rd District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge in 2015. The district’s jurisdiction includes Roanoke city and county and the city of Salem.

In January, about five months before the end of his first term, he quietly submitted his resignation from the bench, according to past newspaper coverage. No explanation for the departure was given. The General Assembly appointed a new judge to succeed him in February.

Weber, of Troutville, said in filings submitted for his bar hearing that he never had an intimate relationship with the client.

He’s accused of sleeping with a woman while representing her, before his judicial appointment, and later giving a little more than $22,000 to her or others for her after he was elevated to the bench, according to state bar documents first reported by Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

The woman said the money, given over 2018 and 2019, didn’t begin as payments for her silence. But it appeared to become that after Weber stopped paying, and officials wrote she threatened to disclose the sexual encounters that she said they had while he was representing her on a case in 2013 and 2014..

She reported him to police in 2020, about nine months after he stopped paying her entirely, officials wrote. The woman, identified in documents only by her initials, told authorities she was concerned about him serving as a judge after he had taken advantage of her.

She was described as young, scared and battling addiction when Weber was hired to defend her in 2013. In an interview with a bar investigator, she said she felt compelled to engage in a physical relationship with him to ensure Weber would help her and be an effective advocate .

She’s quoted as telling officials in part: “he knew I was vulnerable and he knew what he was doing.”

Weber has adamantly denied any unprofessionalism in his work on that case. That was reiterated by his attorneys when asked for comment Thursday.

In his bar filing, he said nothing untoward happened between him and the client, and they didn’t speak again after the case until 2018, when he said the woman reached out and told him that she was struggling, in danger of homelessness and seeking help to start recovery, a step he said he urged her to take before.

He tried to help her at first, his attorneys wrote, but over time grew doubtful of things she would tell him and decided to end financial assistance. Then, according to their brief, she began threatening to lodge false claims against him.

The initial aid Weber had given her already helped set in motion the extortion that followed, his attorneys wrote.

“She used then-Judge Weber’s generosity to paralyze him with the threat of spreading false accusations and the claim that no one would believe he would have helped her simply out of the kindness of his heart,” read their response brief.

Weber never reported the situation to authorities, according to bar documents.

The state bar’s inquiry into the matter to date has included bank records that supported the $22,000 figure, officials wrote. It also includes 4,826 text messages exchanged by Weber and the woman in 2019. Excerpts of the messages included in documents showed fraught conversations.

A district subcommittee of the Virginia State Bar moved in July to send the matter to a disciplinary board hearing.

That hearing has been set for Dec. 17. Weber’s attorneys, Tony Anderson and John Lichtenstein, said in a joint statement that Weber had committed his career to justice and fairness.

“John Weber III is a wonderful gentleman who has helped many, many people,” they said. “... He has categorically denied these allegations and looks forward to a timely resolution of these matters.”

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