By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; B01
Days after D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Janet Albert broke up with her girlfriend, the judge found her former companion unconscious in her attic, above her bedroom, with some food and an ice bucket fashioned into a makeshift toilet, authorities say.
Investigators said Taylar Nuevelle had climbed into the attic through a door in Albert's bedroom closet and had been there for almost 24 hours, listening to Albert's telephone pleas to friends for help.
Now, Nuevelle is on trial on charges of burglary, unlawful entry and stalking. Prosecutors allege that she began stalking Albert and harassing with her with hundreds of phone calls, threatening e-mails and text messages after the two ended their year-long relationship in 2008. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Rarely is a judge the victim and the center of a criminal case, but Albert, who was sworn in in 2003, took the witness stand Tuesday and told a jury of a love affair gone awry that resulted in Nuevelle unleashing a furor of threatening phone calls and text messages, and eventually breaking into Albert's three-bedroom Northwest Washington home. Several times, Albert testified, she feared for her safety and that of her 9-year-old son.
"I didn't know what she was capable of. Her drama seemed out of control," said Albert, 45, her voice often shaky. "She was volatile. It was like this switch went off and there was no ability to be rational with this person."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Brenowitz described Nuevelle, 40, as manipulative and cunning, and said that she had threatened to "out" former lovers to employers during arguments and breakups. Prosecutors say cellphone records show that Nuevelle called Albert 473 times between Sept. 11 and Oct. 22, 2008, including 139 times in one night.
But Nuevelle and her lawyer, Dorsey Jones, insist that Nuevelle was simply trying to recover some items that the two had purchased together when they lived in Albert's home.
Nuevelle also alleges that she was harassed by U.S. marshals because Albert used her judicial position. And in a letter to the court's chief judge, Lee F. Satterfield, Nuevelle wrote that Albert had used her influence to remove a child from a home -- without the mother's consent or a court order -- and had the child live with the two women for almost six weeks. The girl's biological mother, Nuevelle wrote, was in a psychiatric unit of a Washington area hospital.
A committee comprising Superior Court judges is now reviewing the case to determine whether Albert breached her ethical duties.
A court spokesman declined to comment on the case but acknowledged that U.S. marshals conducted a sweep of Albert's home. The spokesman said the procedure is standard whenever a judge's personal safety is jeopardized.
Albert and Nuevelle met at a retreat in May 2007 sponsored by their church, the All Souls Unitarian Church in the District. The two started dating about four months later.
But the relationship began to sour within a year and, by late summer 2008, Albert had started to try to break it off. Each time, Albert said, Nuevelle would burst into tears, and at one point threatened suicide by swallowing prescription pills. "I was a ball of nerves. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced," Albert said.
On Sept. 11, 2008, the women agreed to end the relationship. Then, according to court documents, on Sept. 13, 2008, Albert found Nuevelle in her attic but declined to press charges. Weeks later, after Nuevelle filed a complaint alleging ethical violations against the judge, Albert filed a police report against Nuevelle.
Nuevelle later filed a civil lawsuit against Albert to recover property. That case is pending. Albert's attorney, former U.S. attorney for the District Robert J. Spagnoletti, declined to comment on the civil case.
Police arrested Nuevelle in November 2008. She was released from jail and has been living at home since her arrest.
The trial, being heard before Judge Russell F. Canan, is expected to last through the week. Albert's testimony, which is expected to continue Wednesday, is critical to the criminal case against Nuevelle, and whatever Albert says on the witness stand could also be used by the judicial review committee.
Finding a judge to hear a case involving a peer was difficult. One judge, Lynn Leibovitz, declined. Finding a judge to hear the civil case also was tricky; one declined before it was assigned to Judge Judith Macaluso.
During hearings before the trial, Nuevelle often smiled when speaking in court, but then wept when she spoke of her past relationships and being physically abused.
She has taken an active role in her defense. She fired her first lawyer and is often seen speaking to or passing notes to Jones and reviewing exhibits before he speaks. Between hearings, Nuevelle sits alone reading "Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court."
In 1999, Nuevelle, whose birth name is Idella Jackson, ducked out of a District courtroom and fled the country with her son, then 5, during a custody battle with her ex-husband. Two years later, she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a felony charge of criminal contempt and lying to obtain a passport; the parental kidnapping charge was dropped in the plea deal. Nuevelle was sentenced to three years' probation, which had ended by the time she met Albert.