Still marveling at the avalanche of utterly irrelevant arguments pouring forth from embattled and perennially ethically challenged Loudoun supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and his very loyal Loudoun GOP followers, we spent the last day doing some actual legal research and consulting legal authorities about how petitions for removal of a public officer work in Virginia, and what the legal merits of the case against Delgaudio are.
The summary first:
• The only procedure available in Virginia for removal of an unfit public official is the legal proceeding provided for in Virginia code 24.2-233. This is not a recall, in which a vote is held in a special election; it is rather much more akin to an impeachment proceeding, in which a case is heard on the merits, by a Circuit Court, and a legal decision rendered by the court after a “quasi-criminal” trial in which both parties are permitted to call and cross-examine witnesses under normal courtroom procedures of due process.
• Although the action must be initiated by a petition signed by a number of registered voters equaling 10 percent of the turnout in the last election, and stating in general terms the reasons for removal of the officer, the petitioners are not a party to the case; it is prosecuted by the Commonwealth, and the prosecutor’s duty is “to further the best interest of the Commonwealth, not the interests of the respective petitioners.” Thus who the petitioners are, or what their supposed motivations may be, is completely irrelevant.
• The clear legislative intent of this statute, according to a holding by the Virginia Supreme Court, is “to provide a speedy remedy for the removal of corrupt and unfaithful officials.” It is not necessary to show that the official violated any laws, but rather only that the official is guilty of “misuse of office,” “neglect of duty,” or “incompetence.”
• Although the bar is high for success in such actions, and the law is uncomfortably vague, there is considerable evidence already in the public record to make a legally plausible case for Delgaudio’s removal on the grounds of misuse of office, though probably not on the other two possible grounds of incompetence or neglect of duty. Continue reading