Published on: Tuesday, September 28, 2021

During a recent hearing in Roanoke’s federal court, the defense attorney was making an aggressive attack on the testimony of a Henry County sheriff’s deputy who said he found the defendant driving a pickup truck full of firearms. The judge wasn’t listening — literally (article available here).

In a highly unusual move, the judge ended a tense exchange by standing up and walking out of the courtroom without calling a formal recess, leaving Schiffelbein to make his arguments to an empty bench.

The attorney later filed a written objection, saying the court violated the basic principle that every defendant — including his client who faces a charge of possessing firearms as a convicted felon — is entitled to have their case heard. “It conveyed the message to [the client] that whatever his counsel had to say did not and would not matter,” the document states.

The defense attorney had argued that he should be allowed to make a proffer, or a summary of his arguments against a ruling by the judge, who had just cut off his line of questioning that went to the sheriff’s deputy’s credibility. The judge then “quite unexpectedly rose from the bench and left the courtroom with the parting instruction ... you may proffer that while I’m out of the courtroom.

After the proffer was made, the judge returned to the courtroom and the hearing continued.