Breaking News
More () »

Months before he threw a domestic violence witness in jail, Loudoun judge summarily detained a divorce lawyer

Attorney describes shock of being strip-searched, says Judge James Fisher's behavior sends a chilling message to other attorneys and witnesses.

LEESBURG, Va. — Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Fisher is already under fire for throwing a woman in jail as she was testifying that her former boyfriend had punched her twice in the face. Now, new questions are being raised about the judge's history. 

Divorce lawyer Rachel Virk says Judge Fisher jailed her, too, while she was arguing a motion in his courtroom on Jan. 31, 2020. The scene can be heard playing out on a closed-circuit video. 

“I need the justification for the record,“ Virk can be heard saying to Judge Fisher after he ruled against her on a motion. 

"I've given you justification," Fisher responds. 

“I’m not clear what that is," Virk said. 

“Well let me make something clear, if you keep arguing with me, you’re going to be held in contempt," the judge responds again. "Is that clear?" 

A few moments later, as the judge tries to move on, Virk tries again to understand the judge's ruling so she can appeal. 

“I don’t know your honor’s ruling,” she said. 

Fisher then hammers his gavel repeatedly, shouting, “You’re held in contempt, ma’am!" and ordering the bailiff to take her into custody.

"I impose a penalty of $250 and one night in the county jail," Fisher ruled. 

The judge left the bench and the sheriff’s deputy took her into custody.

“That was considered contemptuous enough for me to be shackled, chained, subjected to a strip search and thrown in jail for the night,” said Virk, who is still shaken by the experience. "You have to strip naked, stand in front of a deputy. If you’re a woman, lift up your breasts, turn around, bend over, spread your butt cheeks." 

Protesters have been calling for the Virginia General Assembly to impeach Judge Fisher after he ordered a woman testifying against her former partner in a domestic violence case to be held in jail for 10 days; Fisher accused her of being high on marijuana when she took the stand. 

"What am I supposed to do? I don't understand!" Katie Orndoff cried as the bailiff detained her on orders of Judge Fisher.

Virk said that when she heard what happened to Orndoff she was taken right back to her own experience with Fisher. 

"That resonated with me," Virk said. "Like what just happened?" 

Virk said she complained to the Judicial Inquiries and Review Commission, but its decisions are often confidential and it's not clear what action it took. 

She’s also suing the court clerk and sheriff alleging negligence and false imprisonment. In a response, a lawyer for the sheriff and the clerk says the complaint, "contains claims which have no basis in Virginia law, fail to allege sufficient facts to establish a cause of action, and/or are impermissibly vague."

As for Judge Fisher, he’s still on the bench, but declining to comment to reporters.

Virk is convinced the judge's actions have sent a chilling message to other lawyers who appear in his courtroom. 

"They are afraid to speak up because they are afraid the same thing will happen to them," she said.

The Virginia General Assembly appointed Fisher to an eight-year term as judge in January 2019. 

WUSA9 is now on Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. Download the apps today for live newscasts and video on demand.

Download the WUSA9 app to get breaking news, weather and important stories at your fingertips.

Sign up for the Get Up DC newsletter: Your forecast. Your commute. Your news.

Sign up for the Capitol Breach email newsletter, delivering the latest breaking news and a roundup of the investigation into the Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out