Attorney’s Fees Against Gloucester PetitionersJohnson v. Woodward (amicus)

In February 2008, four Gloucester County supervisors were indicted for “transacting public business without authority,” warrantless search and seizure and computer trespass. Pursuant to a Virginia statute that allows citizens to petition for the removal of public officials, 40 Gloucester citizens circulated petitions, gathered the requisite number of signatures and filed them in the Circuit Court in September 2008. In October, the indictments against the supervisors were dismissed. In November, the special Commonwealth’s Attorney appointed to prosecute the removal petitions nonsuited them due to technical inadequacies.

The supervisors filed a motion for sanctions against the petitioners. They argued that the petitioners were in cahoots with the prosecutor who had indicted them, as part of a conspiracy to use meritless criminal charges to form a basis for meritless removal petitions. The judge ordered each of the 40 petitioners to pay $2000 in attorney’s fees. They moved to reconsider on First Amendment and other grounds. That motion was denied. The petitioners filed a petition for appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court. Along with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, we filed an amicus brief arguing that the sanctions violated the First Amendment.  On April 16, 2010, the Virginia Supreme Court granted the petition for appeal.  On May 26, 2010, we and the Thomas Jefferson Center filed another amicus brief with the Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of the petitioners.  On March 7, 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the sanctions.

Court Documents (click link to view .pdf)
Brief Amicus Curiae, May 2010 - Virginia Supreme Court
Brief Amicus Curiae, December 2009 - Virginia Supreme Court

Attorney(s)

Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Virginia; Josh Wheeler, Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

Date filed

December 22, 2009

Court

Virginia Supreme Court

Status

Closed

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