In Rappahannock County General District Court Tuesday (Jan. 17), Patricia Lynn Sullivan of Sperryville was issued a $1,000 recognizance to keep the peace – or peace bond – to guarantee compliance with the court’s order that the former Flavor magazine investor would have no contact with the Sperryville-based magazine’s publisher, Melissa Harris.
If Sullivan violates the court order, she must go before the court, the bond will be forfeited to the commonwealth and charges may be placed.
After a hearing in which Sullivan claimed Harris withheld financial information and made unauthorized purchases with Sullivan’s credit card – and Harris said Sullivan made several threatening statements, including one about a handgun – Judge J. Gregory Ashwell issued the recognizance.
Ashwell had postponed the hearing in November after then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke asked that a special prosecutor be appointed, since both he and his newly elected replacement Art Goff had both had earlier legal dealings with Sullivan.
A stay-away order had previously been imposed on Sullivan, but Harris said that Sullivan simply would not stay away. The judge heard from Harris’s sister, Anita King, and Flavor associates Irene McMahon and Molly Peterson, as well as from Sullivan herself.
Special prosecutor Thomas G. Smith, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Culpeper County, said in court that the conflict began as a business venture. After Sullivan invested money, Harris alleged that she became obsessive, calling her at home and at the office daily, sometimes as many as 40 times a day. If Harris didn’t return a call, she testified, Sullivan would grow agitated. Her investment, Smith told the court in an opening statement, did not make Harris “Sullivan’s puppet.”
Harris said Sullivan accused the publisher of not being honest with her, and quoted her as saying “the last person to [expletive] with me ended up killing himself.” Harris said Sullivan also told her that she had a .357 handgun, and that Harris “had better watch her back,” both of which comments Sullivan denied making.
Harris testified that she no longer attends events that she used to frequent as a mother and a publisher, because Sullivan would follow her. Harris said her children didn’t go trick-or-treating on Halloween because they were afraid of Sullivan. At an annual Food Pantry fundraiser at the home of Washington Mayor John Sullivan (no relation to Lynn Sullivan), Harris said she hired a bodyguard because she knew Lynn Sullivan had also been invited.
In an attempt to prove what was characterized as Sullivan’s stalking-like behavor, Harris also testified that she had traveled to New York with Sullivan for a business meeting arranged by Sullivan. When they arrived in the city, Harris said the meeting was apparently cancelled and Sullivan instead scheduled a massage for Harris. When Harris finished the massage, she said, she found that leopard-print lingerie had been left for her in her hotel room. McMahon, who lived in New York then and met up with Harris during the trip, testified to seeing the lingerie.
Ashwell interrupted to remind the prosecutor what was needed to make a case for a peace bond. “I want to keep it to the threats,” he said. “Enough of the leopard-skinned lingerie.”
Sullivan’s attorney Jonathan P. Lienhard agreed in court that the conflict had arisen out of a business investment, specifically a $10,000 loan from Sullivan to pay a debt to Sperryville farmer and business owner Cliff Miller (whose farm is managed by witness Peterson’s husband). Harris, he said, also made $4,000 in unauthorized charges on Sullivan’s American Express card, after which Sullivan tried to have Harris investigated for alleged fraud.
“I’m not going to litigate the business and financial issues,” Judge Ashwell said. “I don’t want to know about the underlying financial issues.”
Ashwell denied Leinhard’s motion for dismissal, and Sullivan took the stand. She said she had been asked by Harris to help create a Flavor business plan and to make the $10,000 loan. Sullivan denied making any statement about owning a .357, saying she doesn’t own one. She also denied harassing Harris with phone calls. “I was CFO [chief financial officer] as an investor and had reason to call her.” Sullivan said she never threatened to injure or kill Harris.
“What you have here is a classic, ‘She said, she said,’ with no solid evidence of threatening,” Lienhard said in his summary. “The commonwealth has not established enough evidence to warrant a peace bond.” Prosecutor Smith pointed out that “it comes down to the credibility of the witness, and the number of witnesses that testify to Sullivan making these calls and statements that she is denying outright.”
After outlining the requirements for making a finding in such a case, Ashwell said that the alleged handgun reference can be seen as threatening and that the mention of the suicide story, though not a direct threat, could be seen as intimidation. The judge issued the one-year $1,000 cash secured recognizance bond to keep the peace, reminding Sullivan: “No contact, directly or indirectly, with Ms. Harris, or you will have to forfeit that $1,000 and must appear before this court again.”
Disclosure note: Both Sullivan and Harris have explored business relationships in the past with the Rappahannock News publisher Walter Nicklin’s magazine, Piedmont Virginian, which is a separate entity from the newspaper, and no relationships exist.