By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - Lawyers for one plaintiff and three defendants clashed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Thursday over whether a referendum is needed to finance the regional jail in Warren County.
The jail has been under construction since early summer, but opponents are still challenging the legality of decisions taken by the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority board and the Virginia Resources Authority to borrow more than $80 million to fund the project.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp, who questioned some of the plaintiff's claims from the bench, said he would issue a ruling Friday.
Bradley G. Pollack, a Woodstock attorney representing jail opponents led by Toms Brook resident Mark W. Prince, argued that the three defendants failed to produce the bonds that were authorized by the jail authority and Board of Supervisors in mid-April. Pollack said Hupp should wait until the bonds are available before issuing a decision or allow a jury trial.
J. Jay Litten represented the Board of Supervisors for the defense. He was joined by Robert Hodges who represented the VRA, and William H. Hefty of Richmond representing the Jail Authority. Much of their argument, presented by Hodges, claimed that Prince's efforts to block the project came too late to be considered by Hupp.
Hodges cited a state law that provides 30 days to file a lawsuit challenging a borrowing decision by a governing body. Hodges said one of the reasons for the short time period is that state lawmakers did not want projects authorized by local officials to be halted once construction had started.
Prince filed his complaint against the defendants on July 2, and the last action taken pertaining to the financing of the jail was on May 29, Hodges said. In any event, Hodges said, May 29 was almost certainly much too late a date from which to apply the deadline. The window for legal action had probably closed weeks before, he said.
Pollack contended that the 30-day deadline expired on a weekend. Therefore, he said, the plaintiffs had met the deadline by filing on July 2, a Monday.
Hupp reacted with skepticism to some of the other arguments offered by the plaintiffs.
He mentioned twice that he had not had enough time to read a plaintiff's brief that had been submitted to him Thursday morning and was therefore placed in "a somewhat difficult position" in evaluating its merits.
Both sides sparred over the meaning of two Virginia Supreme Court cases on the subject of citizen challenges to borrowing decisions. Both cases were decided in favor of the local government units.
Pollack contended that the cases were either too old or too narrow in their scope to offer much guidance on how the regional jail case should be decided.
He said the part of the Constitution on which one case was decided did not exist until 1971.
Pollack also urged Hupp to block payments on what he called an unconstitutional debt approved by jail authority.
"Surely this court will not allow payments on bonds ... not lawful debt under the constitution to survive a taxpayer challenge, long respected in Virginia law, as set forth in plaintiff's complaint," Pollack wrote in a court document.
After hearing Pollack repeat the argument in court Thursday, Hupp said he was wary of exceeding his power as a judge if he tried to block payments approved by elected officials.
"It certainly doesn't comport with my view of judicial restraint," Hupp said of Pollack's argument.