Lancaster County’s former prosecutor found himself on the other side of the legal system this morning in General District Court.
C. Jeffers Schmidt, who served as Lancaster County Commonwealth’s Attorney until the November, 2011 election of Robert Cunningham, was charged with false entry and destruction of public records allegedly related to the improper, attempted disposal of criminal records accumulated by his office.
On Dec. 7, 2011 the Hon. Judge Joseph Ellis ordered Schmidt to “make available to his successor all such records, including, but not limited to, pending and closed case files, legal research, forms, electronic records, criminal investigative reports, witness statements, grand jury testimony, pre-sentence reports, law enforcement contact information [and] computer data files, in either paper or electronic form.”
The issuance came after then Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Cunningham filed a formal complaint in circuit court on Nov. 30 alleging that Schmidt was in the process of disposing critical files and had intended to wipe office computers clean before vacating the office.
According to a source close to the investigation, cleaning staff alerted the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office that numerous trash bags, some containing case files, had been placed near Schmidt’s car for disposal.
Deputies retrieved the bags, and upon discovering that they contained sensitive information pertaining to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, the bags were turned over to state police and the office of the attorney general.
According to Virginia State law, any and all documents generated by a commonwealth’s attorney’s office are property of the state, must normally be retained for 10 years and only destroyed following a prescribed protocol that includes an appointment of a records officer and approval from the Library of Virginia.
The charge Schmidt currently faces is a Class 1 misdemeanor. He is being represented by Richmond-based defense attorney Craig Cooley and is next scheduled to appear in court on March 6.
If Schmidt is found guilty, he will be considered “incapable of holding any office of honor, profit or trust under the Constitution of Virginia.” Schmidt currently serves as an attorney for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Special Assistant United States Attorney Michael A. Jagels, of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office Special Prosecutions and Organized Crime Section, has been assigned to prosecute the case.
Neither Jagels, Schmidt nor his attorney, Craig S. Cooley of Richmond, returned calls as of presstime.