A Stafford County Circuit Court judge cleared county Supervisor E. Lloyd Chittum yesterday of charges that he violated state conflict-of-interest laws last year when his firm did repair work for the county schools.
Judge Richard H.C. Taylor dismissed the case against Chittum, a Republican, before hearing Chittum's defense, ruling that the prosecution had failed to establish that the supervisor "willfully" violated the law or was guilty of "malfeasance."
The judge said he did not even consider whether Chittum had notified the county in advance of his dealings with the School Board, as state law requires. A state police investigator said after the trial, however, that Chittum had told him that he notified the county of the work after it had been performed.
Chittum's firm, Lloyd's Acoustics Inc. of Fredericksburg, replaced a ceiling at North Stafford High School that had been damaged by fire in March 1983. The School Board paid Chittum $495 for the job.
The case was considered by some in the county to be politically motivated. The prosecution was set in motion by a letter written to the Commonwealth's Attorney by a political adversary of Chittum's, county activist David Roberts. Roberts had called for Chittum's resignation in letters to local newspapers.
"I think it's a shame that public officials have to put up with this kind of nonsense," Chittum said after the trial.
The trial yesterday marked the second time this year a county politician had been prosecuted for, and cleared of, conflict-of-interest charges.
In the first instance, John A. Nere was cleared in April of charges that he violated conflict-of-interest laws when his firm worked on a county building renovation. Nere is the county's former tiebreaker, an elected official who is called on whenever there is a tie vote on the county Board of Supervisors.
Ironically, it was Chittum who swore out a warrant against Nere. Chittum opposed Nere's bid in the fall of 1983 to unseat State Del. Thomas Moncure, a Republican. Nere ran as an independent with Democratic backing.
In his ruling yesterday, Judge Taylor said, "I find nothing in the commonwealth's evidence that shows that [Chittum] willfully [violated the conflict-of-interest law] or that there was malfeasance."
After the ruling, Chittum's attorney, Gordon Gay, said the defense would have shown that Chittum performed the work for the School Board the day after he notified the county of his intent to do so -- in compliance with state law.
But state police investigator Hugh E. Elwood said afterward that Chittum had told him in a pretrial interview that the work was performed nearly two months before Chittum notified the county. Elwood said Chittum told him "it completely slipped his mind" to notify the county, and that he was only reminded by Nere's conflict-of-interest case.
The special prosecutor in the case, Henry Lee Carter, former Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney, said after the trial that Chittum had "slipped up" by failing to notify the county in advance of the work for the school board.