Virginia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Gloucester Voters Sanctioned for Efforts to Oust Public Officials

ACLU of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson Center Filed Friend-of-the-Court Brief Opposing Fines Levied Against 40 Individuals Who Gathered Signatures for Petition FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; Richmond, VA – The Supreme Court of Virginia today ruled in favor of 40 Gloucester County residents who were ordered to pay a total of $80,000 in fees after they attempted to use an obscure Virginia law to remove from office four members of the county’s board of supervisors. The ACLU of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Gloucester residents in June of last year. The brief claims that the court sanctions chill the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Under Virginia law, citizens who have collected signatures from 10% of the voters in the relevant political jurisdiction may ask a court to remove elected officials who are abusing their office. In 2008, after several members of the Gloucester Board of Supervisors were indicted on criminal charges, 40 voters began collecting signatures for a removal petition, which they presented to the Gloucester County Circuit Court in the fall of 2008. Judge Westbrook Parker dismissed the case and assessed fees after ruling that the petitioners were politically motivated. Judge Parker’s ruling spurred state legislators into action. In the 2009 General Assembly, lawmakers unanimously amended the state code to prohibit judges from fining or imposing fees on citizens who exercise their right to use Virginia’s law on removal of public officials. Under the amended law, which took effect on July 1, 2009, removal petitions may not be thrown out of court because of technical flaws, and persons who sign or circulate petitions cannot be liable for any costs associated with removal proceedings, including attorney fees and court costs, and may not have sanctions imposed against them (See

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