“I’ve never seen the judicial system abused so much for purely political ends,” Substitute Circuit Judge Westbrook J. Parker said. “This should not happen in America.”
An excellent summary, but not of the indictments he dismissed or the petitions he threw out. Instead, he inadvertently summarized his own judgment.
A month ago, this Virginia judge threw out petitions gathered to remove four Gloucester County supervisors. The four had also been indicted by a grand jury for the crimes that had so disturbed their constituents. The judge dismissed the indictments, too.
And to add injury to his judgmental insult, he socked members of the Gloucester County Citizens for Accountable Representation — the group that had sponsored the recall — with an $80,000 bill to cover part of the supervisors’ legal fees, apportioned to the 40 members of the organization. The amount covered over 60 percent of the legal bill the supervisors had run up defending themselves.
The petitioners might not have been in this predicament had the state of Virginia possessed what many other states do possess: A right of political recall. Instead, in Virginia, elected officials may be removed from office, before the end of their terms, only in case of some sort of criminal activity.
The recall-for-cause law was so little used in the state that it took the Gloucester activists no small amount of time trying to figure out how to word and organize the petitioning process. The state provided no forms for this eventuality.
At issue in the recall was the behavior of these board members immediately after their election. The new supervisors held closed, secret meetings. This is against the law for public officials, and it irked (to put it mildly) the people who had voted them in. But because not all of them had been sworn in, the state’s open meetings law could be said not to apply to them. And that’s where the whole thing fell apart.
Of course, had the judge in the case been a reasonable jurist and not a hide-bound lackey for the political establishment, he would not have been so offended by the activists. He would have seen that secret meetings are bad things, rightly opposed — on principle as well as “politically” — by citizens. He would also have acknowledged that, in a republic — as well as the state where Thomas Jefferson served in office — we should expect citizens to recall representatives who disagree with them.
Recalls are as American as apple pie and parades on the Fourth of July.