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Supervisors seek reimbursement for $95,000 in legal fees for failed FOIA lawsuit

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Board of Supervisors Chair Ann B. Wheeler

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Ann B. Wheeler

Democrats on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors are seeking reimbursement for $95,400 in legal fees stemming from a failed lawsuit filed by three county residents over a meeting called by the police department in the wake of a May 30 protest in Manassas.  

Attorneys for all five Democratic supervisors filed a court motion Oct. 16 asking a judge to require the plaintiffs pay the legal fees, writing that the lawsuit’s claims were “frivolous assertions of unfounded factual and legal claims.” Retired Fairfax County Judge Dennis Smith dismissed the lawsuit on Oct. 7.

The supervisors cited the lawsuit’s “unwarranted financial burden” on Prince William County taxpayers. County billing records show that the suit has so far cost the county $95,400 in attorney’s fees. 

At-large Chair Ann Wheeler said in her response to the lawsuit in August that she planned to request sanctions “for the gross inconvenience to county operations and resulting fees and costs incurred by county taxpayers.” 

“As a result of the filing of this frivolous and vexatious suit, not only will taxpayer funds be expended, but significant inconveniences and interruption of county business will occur resulting in further harm to the residents of Prince William County for which an independent award of monetary sanctions to benefit county residents is appropriate,” Wheeler’s response said.  

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Prince William County residents B. Alan Gloss, Tammy Spinks and Carol Fox, have since filed a motion in opposition to the supervisors’ request for sanctions and have asked the judge to reconsider his ruling in the case. Gloss said in an email Tuesday that a reconsideration has not yet been scheduled, however. 

“I would hope that [the judge] will reconsider it since he's had time to think it over and really this decision should be an easy one. If he doesn't, we have a good case for appeal,” Gloss said.  

The lawsuit stemmed from a community meeting called by former Prince William County Police Chief Barry Barnard and Deputy Chief Jarad Phelps after a protest against police brutality in Manassas on May 30th turned violent.  

An unlawful assembly was called, and police used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. Injuries were reported to both police officers and protesters, and several arrests were made. Some of those charges, however, were later dismissed.

The meeting at issue in the lawsuit, held on Sunday, May 31, was attended by around 60 community members, faith leaders and elected officials, including Wheeler and Supervisors Victor Angry, D-Neabsco, Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, and Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge.  

The defendants alleged the meeting was illegal violation of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act because the public wasn’t notified and because the county’s three Republican county board members were not told about the meeting and did not attend. The lawsuit also alleged public business was discussed at the meeting because the police department officials gave their account of the police response to the protest.  

When Smith dismissed the case Oct. 7, he ruled the plaintiffs’ attorneys failed to show sufficient evidence that the meeting met the definition of a meeting subject to public disclosure rules under Virginia FOIA law. 

A hearing has not yet been scheduled to consider the supervisors’ request for sanctions.  

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(6) comments

Omarndc72

She is worry about tax payers?? Lol what a joke. Why doesn't she worry about the amount of crime and illegals all over Woodbridge.

InsideCommenter

Disgusting rhetoric, from you crime overall is down and no human being is illegal full stop. Those who are undocumented and commit crimes should be prosecuted and deported to the fullest extent of the law, those who are here peacefully and have assimilated shouldn't be torn from their families.

Neale

I always find it interesting when people use the argument that those who are here illegally "shouldn't be torn from their families." Consider for a moment what might happen to you if you snuck into Mexico with falsified papers and were discovered. No one would argue that because you have a family, you should be allowed to live in peace despite having broken immigration law and carrying forged documents. They'd toss you in prison, and most likely, throw away the key. This is what almost all countries do. The US is the exception to the rule in the misguided notion that anyone can come here illegally, and as long as they don't commit additional serious crimes, we'll allow them to take a job that would otherwise go to an American. We'll educate their children at taxpayer expense. We'll slow down the pace of education to accommodate children wiho speak no English. We'll provide meals - again at taxpayer expense. We'll provide healthcare, police protection, and all other services available to citizens, yes, again at taxpayer expense.

We are a compassionate country, which is why we admit millions and millions of immigrants and asylum-seekers. But we've reached the point where some are gaming the system. Immigrants who are seeking better economic situations have been coached to make false claims of abuse to qualify for asylum. They bring young children as their free ticket into the US. Ways to evade the law are well known in Central America.

It isn't asking too much to ask them to come legally rather than sneaking across our border. It isn't asking to much to stop women from coming shortly before giving birth so that their child will be an American citizen. Then, of course, they're a family so "she shouldn't be torn from her family."

All are welcome. All we ask is that you do it legally, without forged documents, and respect our laws. That's asking very little

Tom Fitzpatrick

Wheeler's right. Taxpayers should not pay.

Wheeler and her co-conspirators should pay. And pay. And pay. And pay.

Because I'm already tired of paying for their highly illegal and equally foolish actions.

I hope that an appeal is filed, and that the battle is joined by those with superior legal and financial resources.

InsideCommenter

Wheeler did nothing, it is the foolish county residents who submitted the frivolous lawsuit that should be made to pay the 95k back, there are consequences for their actions.

Neale

That would have the effect of preventing any citizen from ever taking legal action if their government does something unconstitutional. The judge may have tossed it out, but the suit was not frivolous.

In addition, these citizens have paid their own attorney - they spent good money on what they felt was a strong case. Asking them to pay the opponents' attorney fees is only to enact revenge.

And speaking of attorney fees, why does it cost $95k for a case that never went to court? I would question the validity of such an excessive charge.

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