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.