VA Governor Kaine Signs Citizen Protection Bill
The bill is a response to the case of 40 Gloucester County citizens who were fined $2,000 each after a failed recall effort. The “Gloucester 40” were ordered to pay legal fees after a Judge threw out their petition to remove several unaccountable elected officials. Virginia law says that the state will pick up legal fees in such cases, but Judge Westbrook Parker decided to force the citizens to pay. Apparently the Judge wanted to send people a lesson that you shouldn’t try to hold officials accountable.
Luckily, an effort in the legislature to prevent future injustices like this started up immediately. Del. Harvey Morgan, our February Lilburne Award winner, led the effort in the state House of Delegates. The legislation flew through both houses and got wide support from legislators.
After the legislation passed, Gov. Kaine sent the bill back with a suggestion that the protections be severely weakened. Reason prevailed again when the legislature soundly rejected the governor’s suggestion. After weeks of letters and phone calls to the governor from the Gloucester 40, citizens rights activists, and Citizens In Charge, the governor finally signed the bill into law.
The bill isn’t retroactive, so the Gloucester 40 are still on the hook for a total of $80,000. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is planned, but Judge Parker hasn’t issued a written order in the case yet (which is highly unusual in a case decided months ago). The appeal can’t go forward till the order is signed, and the Gloucester 40’s spokesperson has told me that as of now the futures of the 40 people and their families are in limbo.