By Matt Sabo, The Daily Press 11/20/2009
An appeal was filed Wednesday in Virginia Supreme Court by 40 residents seeking to overturn $80,000 in sanctions levied against them by a judge who said they misused the judicial system in trying to remove four county supervisors from office.
Citing a violation of the First and 14th amendments, the 40 citizens argued through their attorney, Steve Emmert, that a judge overstepped his bounds in sanctioning them.
They also argued the attorneys for Supervisors Teresa Altemus, Bobby Crewe, Michelle Ressler and Gregory Woodard should not have been awarded attorneys’ fees because the judge ruled to non-suit the petitions. The petitioners’ appeal notes that the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in a 2002 case that a “non-suit” essentially a legal maneuver that drops the case but leaves open the possibility of filing again does not favor either party. For fees to be awarded, the proceeding “must be dismissed in favor of the person whose removal was sought,” according to the appeal.
But Tony Troy, one of the attorneys representing the supervisors, said the attorneys’ fees the county paid have nothing to do with the citizens’ sanctions. The sanctions against the 40 citizens were for “conduct that the court found reprehensible,” he said.
On Nov. 19, 2008, substitute Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker ruled to non-suit the petitions, meaning the citizens group could correct and resubmit them, though the petitions were never revived. Parker agreed with the request of a non-suit by special prosecutor John T. “Jack” Randall, who said the thousands of residents who signed the petitions didn’t do so under penalty of perjury and the documents didn’t clearly enough state the reasons for calling for the supervisors’ removal.
Randall tried to convince Parker that Gloucester shouldn’t have to pay the attorneys’ fees. But Parker ruled that while the petitions were a non-suit, he would allow the supervisors to seek attorneys’ fees.
At a hearing nearly a month later, Parker docked the petitioners $2,000 apiece, payable to Gloucester County for what he termed the worst misuse of the judicial system he had ever seen. He also ordered Gloucester County to pay attorneys’ fees that eventually swelled to $171,000.
Earlier this month, the four supervisors voted to use taxpayer funds to pay $343,000 of their legal bills fees that included both the defense against the petitions and defense of the misdemeanor criminal charges.
In addition, the supervisors voted to drop an appeal of Parker’s ruling ordering the county to pay their attorneys’ fees, which was filed Nov. 10.
Emmert said on Thursday that the county easily would have prevailed in that appeal because Parker never allowed the county to defend itself against the imposition of the fees.
Troy said a response to the appeal is due within 21 days, though he may not respond on behalf of the supervisors since the 40 citizens are appealing the sanctions imposed by the judge.