Monday, April 20, 2009

Gloucester judge shuts down petitioners who tried to remove supervisors

Before the real estate assessment protest in Augusta County, there was a similar movement in Gloucester County. Residents circulated petitions for removal of supervisors and filed with the court only to be slapped with fines of $2,000 each by Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker.

The First Amendment allows the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Many felt that Judge Parker's ruling smacked down the First Amendment.

Now that same judge has done it again:
Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker rejected 40 Gloucester County petitioners' attempt to reverse a controversial order that critics say upends the First Amendment.Parker fined the petitioners $2,000 each in December. The $80,000 would cover part of $129,321 in attorney fees and court costs awarded to four county supervisors who had faced petitions to remove them office, after the effort was thrown out of court.

L. Steven Emmert, the petitioners' attorney, requested a hearing to argue the petitioners weren't represented in court the day they were fined. Parker agreed last month to a hearing but only to allow Emmert to provide evidence why the petitioners shouldn't be fined.

The judge rescinded the offer because the petitioners "do not want to present any evidence" to support their cause, according to documents filed Friday in Gloucester County Circuit Court.
Last month, Parker wrote the petitioners would be allowed to testify to their basis of filing the petitions and who guided them in the process.

The latter issue has been of interest to defense attorneys who speculate that attorneys aided the petitioners but are unwilling to come forward out of fear of being sanctioned.
Interesting speculation considering the same has been whispered in Augusta County. The article concluded:
The case has drawn interest across the state and beyond because critics of Parker's initial ruling say it violates the First Amendment, which allows citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances.
If that right is taken away, the republic will be gone.

Update: Rick Sincere pointed out that Judge Westbrook J. Parker was the recipient of a 2009 Thomas Jefferson Muzzle Award. The Thomas Jefferson Center's website says:
“[T]he First Amendment…guarantees the right of citizens ‘to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’ I missed the clause that says, ‘but bring your checkbook.’ ” - newspaper columnist Michael Paul Williams

For ordering the organizers of an unsuccessful petition to recall four County Supervisors and remove them from office to pay $80,000 of the Supervisors’ attorneys’ fees, a 2009 Jefferson Muzzle goes to Virginia Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker.

In July 2008, a special grand jury indicted four members of the Gloucester County Virginia Board of Supervisors on fourteen misdemeanor charges of malfeasance and misuse of office. In response, forty county residents organized an effort to have the four supervisors removed from office. Calling themselves “Gloucester County Citizens for Accountable Representation,” the group collected over six thousand signatures, many more than is required under Virginia law to initiate the formal process by which a judge determines if removal is appropriate.
Read the rest of the award here.

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