Petitioners penalized $2,000

By Katie Collett, WAVY-TV 10 – 6/17/2009

GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. – Dozens of Gloucester County residents face a hefty fine after petitioning to unseat four of their supervisors.

"It’s, as far as I know, unprecedented for a court to punish somebody for exercising their right to petition the government for redress of grievances. We all have that. It’s in the Bill of Rights," says Steven Emmert.

Emmert is the Attorney for the 40 Gloucester County residents who petitioned to have four of their supervisors removed including Teresa Altemus, Michelle Ressler, Bobby Crewe, and Gregory Woodard.

"The citizens all felt it was appropriate to remove the representatives of their body, because they lost confidence in them."

Some of the 40 residents rallied outside the courthouse during a 2008 hearing, upset the four supervisors were indicted for allegedly conducting county business in private.  However, the charges and petition against the supervisors were withdrawn and recently, the judge ruled the residents had to pay $2,000 a piece for misusing the judicial process for political gain.

"The effect of the trial courts ruling is that you can petition the government but you better be right or else you’ll have to pay."

Officials say the money paid by residents goes to the $130,000 dollars in court fees the County has to pay for the supervisors’ hearing, but the 40 residents being penalized $2,000 each is exactly what their attorney is appealing.

"I can probably tell you that in the decades that I’ve been doing appeals, I don’t ever remember having this much ammunition going in seeking to have a judgement reversed," says Emmert.

Emmert also tells WAVY.com, the County doesn’t necessarily have to pay the supervisors’ court fees.

"If the County chooses to fight the assessment of legal fees and costs against it, it’s going to win. The only issue is whether the County will do so."

You might wonder, why wouldn’t the County fight against using tax payers’ dollars to pay the supervisors’ court fees.  Emmert says because the Supervisors are the governing body, it’s up to them to decided if the county should fight or not.

WAVY.com contacted the supervisors and their attorneys today, as well as the judge, but none of them responded.

Emmert says he expects his clients’ case to go before the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond, possibly this year.