Supreme Court reverses decision on ‘Gloucester 40’

By Quinton Sheppard and Kim Robins - Posted on Mar 04, 2011 - 12:38 PM

In a decision Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with the 40 Gloucester residents who were sanctioned $80,000 for organizing petitions to oust four Gloucester County supervisors from office in 2008.

Members of the “Gloucester 40” had appealed to Virginia’s high court regarding the sanctions levied against them by visiting Circuit Court Judge Westbrook Parker.

The decision voids Parker’s order that the 40 petitioners pay $2,000 each toward defendants’ costs in the unsuccessful petition drive.

In the case of Garr N. Johnson, et al, vs. Gregory Woodard, et al, Justice Leroy F. Millette Jr. declared in his opinion that the 40 residents who collected the necessary signatures to move the recall effort forward were not parties to the removal action and therefore Parker erred in imposing sanctions.

“The petitioners assert that the only parties to the removal action are the Commonwealth, as the moving party, and the supervisors, as responding parties,” Millette wrote in his opinion. “Therefore, the petitioners conclude that the circuit court erred in imposing sanctions against them. We agree with the petitioners on this issue.”

The petition removal effort followed a five-month special grand jury investigation that returned 14 misdemeanor indictments against former supervisor Teresa Altemus and current supervisors Bobby Crewe, Michelle Ressler and Gregory Woodard on July 8, 2008.

The indictments charged malfeasance, misfeasance, and misuse of office in connection with the four supervisors’ actions during and immediately following a controversial board of supervisors’ meeting on Jan. 2-3, 2008. Charges were later dropped against the four members of the governing body.

The petitions, which collected over 6,000 signatures, were non-suited on motion by a special prosecutor during a brief hearing in November 2008 for being flawed procedurally and substantively.

Parker said at that time that the petitioners’ actions were one of the worst abuses of the judicial system he had seen and stated, “This should not happen in America.”

Attorneys for the four supervisors and L. Steven Emmert, appellate attorney representing the petitioners, argued their cases before the Virginia Supreme Court on Jan. 11.

Arnold Nye, one of the “Gloucester 40” who was in Richmond when the Supreme Court opinion was handed down, said it was “a pleasant change to the atmosphere we have suffered for so long.

“All the work the ‘40’ put in, we’ve now been proven right in what we did,” Nye continued. “We had always hoped justice would be on our side.”

Nye was one of four members of the “Gloucester 40” present in Richmond. Also there was Nye’s wife, Margarethe, Eileen Viel and Stephanie Ruff. None of the supervisors was present, and neither were the attorneys for either side.

“I’m just elated,” said John Adams, former Gloucester Point supervisor and another member of the “Gloucester 40.” “I shouted to the rooftops when I heard it.

“This is really going to put the coals on the fire to get the other three (supervisors) out of there,” he added.

The complete opinion can be found online at http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1092323.pdf.