Prosecutor writes about life in legal trenches in book

Story by Chris Graham

rayrobertsonbook.gifTwo books in 12 months – and he’s working on a case that could easily lead to a third.
But Staunton Commonwealth’s attorney Ray Robertson is too busy with the particulars of the saga involving the prosecution of After Hours Video on obscenity charges to worry about the literary aspects of the story.
“I wrote this chapter probably back in July – this chapter in here on pornography. And it’s obviously the unfinished chapter. So yeah … I don’t know. That might turn out to be enough for a whole book when it’s all said and done,” said Robertson at an event sponsored by the Augusta County Historical Society in Staunton Thursday night in which Robertson discussed his most recent book, More Tales from the Trenches, that offers stories from his long career in the law.

Robertson has been practicing law in the Queen City since his graduation from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1968. He was elected Commonwealth’s attorney in 1973 and has served the city as its top prosecutor for 34 years.

His first book on his work as a prosecutor in Staunton, Tips and Tales: A Peek at the Criminal Law, was published in January.

The second volume was the result of the urging of friends from the local legal profession who asked him to include more tales of legal days past in a future work.

“One thing that was different about the second book was I actually solicited stories from other attorneys – and there are some neat contributions in here,” Robertson said.
Robertson took questions from those in attendance at the event at the R.R. Smith Center for History and Art in Downtown Staunton. Only one – from yours truly – asked him about the ongoing controversy regarding the adult-video store that opened in Staunton earlier this year that has made the national news.

Robertson declined to go into detail regarding the case – citing the fact that it is an ongoing legal proceeding.

He did go into detail in his response to a question about what led him to a career in prosecuting cases – detailing one of his first cases as a young defense lawyer.

“It was more than a typical rape case. It was this black boy in his late teens who was raping a white woman with her 2- or 3-year-old kid in the room watching it. He had her at gunpoint. A police lieutenant barges through the door, he turns and shoots him in the chest. And I’ve got to defend all that stuff. So with stuff like that, I quickly realized I was on the wrong side of the aisle,” Robertson said.

Robertson also took a question on the subject of the impact of television and movies on prosecuting cases.

“There is something that’s happened now – we call it the ‘CSI’ effect. Juries expect all this crazy detailed scientific evidence, and you come in there with a confession, and if you don’t have the fingerprints and the DNA and everything else, they sometimes put the police on trial and say that they haven’t done enough while we just can’t be totally sure. Yeah, we have to be careful about that nowadays. Juries watch too much television,” Robertson said.


Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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