RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former NASCAR driver Eric McClure pleaded no contest this week to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge and was sentenced to probation, according to a Virginia prosecutor, in a court hearing that was long delayed by McClure's state lawmaker attorney.
The Associated Press has previously reported that McClure's appeals trial after his conviction in a lower court for assault and battery against his now-estranged wife was pushed back over and over again. His attorney, state Del. Jeff Campbell, repeatedly invoked a privilege of his office that grants legislator-lawyers broad discretion to obtain continuances in their cases.
Miranda McClure told AP earlier this year that she thought Campbell, an attorney in private practice from southwest Virginia, was abusing that privilege to drag out the criminal case amid the couple's contentious divorce proceedings and wear her down.
“We’ve been waiting for over two years. ... It's been really hard emotionally and, you know, you're just waiting and waiting and waiting for justice and you just feel that it could possibly never come," she said in an interview Wednesday night.
Campbell did not return a message Thursday left with a person who answered the phone at his law office. He previously declined to discuss his relatively frequent use of continuances at length but said they were used appropriately in the McClure case.
The AP also left a phone message seeking comment at a number listed for a relative of McClure's who has previously declined comment on his behalf.
McClure, who raced in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series, was arrested in February 2018 and convicted in a lower court in June of that year. He appealed, and the case was routinely delayed, at least nine times due to Campbell's use of continuances, according to court records. More recently, proceedings were pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the court system, assistant commonwealth’s attorney Brendan Roche said.
McClure appeared in Smyth County Circuit Court on Wednesday, and a judge granted his request for a deferred disposition under the state's domestic violence statute, Roche said.
Roche said McClure was ordered to complete 12 months of active probation, complete substance abuse counseling and undergo a mental health assessment and any recommended counseling.
“The court did mention that (the case) had been pending on the docket for a while," Roche said.
Miranda McClure said Eric McClure choked and hit her in front of their children, and her 9-year-old daughter called 911. An officer arrived to find Miranda McClure with a handprint on her face, according to a criminal complaint.
Miranda McClure, a mother of seven young girls, filed a complaint against Campbell with the Virginia State Bar last year, writing that “there seems to be a serious ethics violation" in Campbell “using his position as a Virginia Delegate” to delay the case from going to trial.
A bar association employee responded with a letter that said, “We will not take further action on your matter," according to a copy Miranda McClure provided to the AP.
The letter said the court, not the state bar, should determine whether Campbell's legislative continuances were valid.
“The VSB has limited authority and cannot address all situations through its disciplinary process," the letter said.
Miranda McClure said the state's legislative continuance privilege is ripe for abuse and should be reformed.
“Nobody's riding on horseback to go to session anymore. Nobody has to ride on horseback back to notify all of their constituents,” she said.
State code gives legislator-lawyers broad permission to use the privilege. Campbell was able to obtain continuances multiple times in the McClure case over the objection of the commonwealth's attorney's office. He was also able to invoke it even when no legislative work was going on in Richmond because of a technicality of the way the General Assembly had adjourned.
“This has really opened my eyes to how things work," Miranda McClure said. “And, you know, there probably needs to be some legislation in place to stop this type of thing happening.”