John P. Burns, a Reston lawyer, was fined $50 for contempt of the Fairfax County General District Court yesterday for allowing a witness to pose as a defendant at a trial.
Burns' attorney, Michael McWeeny, said the contempt finding by Judge Martin E. Morris will be appealed to the county Circuit Court.
Judge Morris found that Burns had interrupted the administration of justice July 19 as attorney for Forrest and Pegge Schmelling at a trial in Morris's court.
Forrest Schmelling was charged with public drunkenness and his wife Pegge with obstructing his arrest on that charge.
At their trial, a woman who appeared in court with Forrest Schmelling was identified by two arresting officers as Pegge Schmelling. The woman was then identified as Schmelling's "wife's best friend."
At that point, Morris dropped charges against the couple and initiated contempt proceedings against Burns for "failing to approach the bench and not stating that the witness was not Pegge Schmelling."
Under questioning by the judge yesterday, Burns said that the thought of stating that the woman wasn't the defendant "never occurred to me."
"It was not my intention to mislead the court in any way," Burns testified. "I took pains to keep her from the counsel table," he said the woman approached the defense table with Forrest Schmelling, but that she had been seated about "eight feet away" and slightly to the rear of the table.
Morris disagreed, saying he remembered that the woman was seated "right next" to Schmelling and Burns.