The Public Information Office of the City of Falls Church issued a media advisory tonight in anticipation of what could be a major descent of regional media on the Falls Church City Hall tomorrow, location of the preliminary hearing in the case involving two felony charges of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object sexual penetration of minors against F.C. City resident and political activist Michael Gardner. The F.C.General District Court will convene in the Council chambers at City Hall tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, and Gardner, 47, is slated to appear at 11:45 a.m.
Barbara Gordon, the Director of Communications for Falls Church, issued a media advisory tonight indicating that a tent will be set up outside the courtroom to accommodate the press, and that the decision on whether the courtroom will be open for the press won’t be made by the court until tomorrow.
In a new development, Gardner’s initial attorney, former Falls Church mayor Brian O’Connor, told the News-Press today that he no longer represents Gardner, and that the case has been taken over by Peter Greenspun, of the Fairfax County law firm of Greenspun, Shapiro, Davis and Leary, the attorney involved in the defense of the D.C.-area sniper suspects and who is routinely ranked among the best lawyers in Virginia and the Washington, D.C. region. O’Connor told the News-Press that he continues to believe in the innocence of Gardner and will be available to do whatever he can to help him and his family, including his wife, former Falls Church Mayor and current Council member Robin Gardner, and their two children.
Presiding at the preliminary hearing tomorrow will be Judge Esther Wiggins from the Arlington District Court, and prosecuting the case will be Nicole Wittman, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for the Loudoun County District Court. Ms. Wittman was asked by Arlington Commonwealth Attorney Dick Trodden to prosecute the case because of the many political contacts the defendant has in the Arlington and Fairfax circuit court system.
The F.C. advisory release tonight noted that the purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the offenses charged have been committed by the defendant. At this stage, “probable cause,” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is the required criterion for moving the case to a full trial. Motions may be filed by both sides, as well. The case will be heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, which hears all cases of youth under 18 of age who are charged with, or are the victims of, crimes or other violations of law in the City of Falls Church.