Falls Church City Council member Phil Duncan, hit in his bid for re-election next week with an aggressive campaign by his political opponents for submitting a letter three years ago to the court seeking leniency in the conviction stage of now-confessed child molester and former F.C. civic leader Michael Gardner, threw himself at the proverbial mercy of the Falls Church community during Monday’s City Council meeting, seeking forgiveness for “misjudging Michael Gardner’s character.”
Duncan’s apology followed one that Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton brought to the podium at the meeting for the same reason. A website associated with Duncan’s foe in next week’s election, Sam Mabry, “exposed” letters written by a number of prominent local officials when Gardner was first convicted in 2012 at the request of his attorney and conveyed through his wife, former Mayor Robin Gardner, that did not challenge the verdict but did seek a lesser rather than greater prison term for Gardner. In fact, in that case, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned Gardner’s conviction and it was only when a new victim surfaced a year ago that a new arrest of Gardner occurred and a new trial was to begin last month resulting in a confession of guilt by Gardner in a plea bargain.
In a surprise move just last week, the parents of one of Gardner’s victims in the first case made the letters, including the ones by Duncan and Clinton, available for edited publication on the Mabry-associated website, and by revealing their own identities thus exposed the identity of the victim, their daughter. In a subsequent televised interview on a D.C. television station this week, the mother of the victim, identified in the clip, said openly that she hoped the expose of Duncan’s letter would influence the outcome of next week’s election.
In a related development, the parents of the victim joined their names as applicants of a petition filed by a group of parents, including by School Board candidate Becky Smerdon, in the Arlington Circuit Court, against the Falls Church School System in a matter unrelated to the Gardner case. This was filed last month, before the parents leaked any information about the letters, Duncan’s and Clinton’s included.