D.C. judge's ex-girlfriend gets 5 years in prison

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; B01

The ex-girlfriend of a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge was sentenced Thursday to more than five years in prison for stalking the judge and breaking into her Northwest Washington home.

During an emotional and often complex hearing, Judge Russell F. Canan sentenced Taylar Nuevelle, 41, to the maximum sentence under the court's guidelines. In February, a jury found Nuevelle guilty of stalking her former girlfriend, Judge Janet Albert, who oversees child neglect cases.

In September 2008, Nuevelle was found unconscious in Albert's attic. She was under the influence of wine and prescription pills, and she was discovered above Albert's bedroom, with food to eat and a toilet fashioned from an ice bucket, police said. Authorities said Nuevelle had been in the attic for more than 24 hours.

Albert, her voice shaking, pleaded with Canan to sentence Nuevelle to the maximum and spoke of how Nuevelle "traumatized" Albert's 9-year-old son with unwanted visits to the house, phone calls and e-mails. Albert said the problems started when she ended the year-long relationship with Nuevelle.

"I was in a constant state of panic waiting for the next shoe to drop. I am emotionally battered by her actions," Albert testified. Albert, sometimes in tears, said Nuevelle's actions have changed her life.

Nuevelle apologized to Albert and blamed her actions on post-traumatic stress from years of abusive relationships that began when she was a child. She said she was trying to recover some of her belongings when she went to Albert's house and was discovered in the attic. While there, she decided to end her life by taking pills, she said.

"It is clear I hurt Ms. Albert. There is no apology good enough. I hear her. I hear her suffering," Nuevelle said. Nuevelle said she began to "unravel" during an argument in which she said that Albert threatened to use her authority to make sure Nuevelle never saw her own son again. Albert denies making such a threat. Nuevelle's son is 16 and living with his father.

"I can't take back what I've done. I am truly sorry," Nuevelle said.

During the trial, Nuevelle insisted she lived at Albert's house for about a year and had numerous belongings there that she still has not recovered. Albert testified that Nuevelle stayed at her home only on occasion. But in a November 2008 court filing in a separate civil case Nuevelle filed to recover her belongings, Michelle Zavos, the lawyer then representing Albert, wrote that the women "resided together for a period of less than one year." Canan did not allow the jury to hear about the filing.

Albert's current lawyer, Robert Spagnoletti, said the filing was inaccurate.

Nuevelle also lodged a judicial misconduct complaint against Albert, saying that Albert had used her position to remove a child from a home -- without the mother's consent or a court order -- and had the child live with the women for almost six weeks.

Before Thursday's sentencing, Nuevelle said in an interview at the D.C. jail that she wanted to clear up several misconceptions that emerged at trial. For example, she said she never used the ice bucket as a toilet and thought the only reason the case was in the court was because of Albert's position.

Nuevelle, who spent time in a Northern Virginia foster care facility as a child, said years of abuse make her vulnerable in relationships. "People who grow up in abuse tend to attract abusive people," she said.

During sentencing, Canan acknowledged Nuevelle's troubled childhood, but said the abusive relationships she had as an adult were of her own making. Canan called Nuevelle's actions "outrageous" and said Nuevelle "set forth in any way she could think of to harass and stalk" Albert.

Canan also cited court records to point out previous behavior after Nuevelle's broken relationships. The judge said that during a 1999 custody battle with her ex-husband, she ducked out of a District courtroom and fled the country with her son, then 5, for three years. Nuevelle said her ex-husband abused her.

Canan also mentioned a 2002 case involving a former girlfriend in Oakland, Calif., who held Nuevelle and her son hostage for several hours in Nuevelle's apartment. The woman had a gun and a knife and was arrested by a SWAT team.

Finally, Canan cited a 2005 case in which Nuevelle and a Washington woman obtained restraining orders against each other after they ended their relationship. Nuevelle's then-girlfriend said Nuevelle threatened to publicize their partnership. Nuevelle said the woman struck her with her car.

In each case, Canan said, Nuevelle was the aggressor, and in some instances there was no evidence of abuse.

After Thursday's hearing, Nuevelle's lawyer, Latif Doman, said the sentence was too severe and the case never should have gone to court. "The lesson of this is don't have a bad breakup with a lesbian judge," he said in an interview. "It means you go to jail for 5 1/2 years."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company