Attorney: Lawsuits cost county $32,000

^ Posted Feb. 12

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Lawsuits involving Shenandoah County cost the government more than $32,000, according to legal counsel.

County Attorney J. Jay Litten updated the Board of Supervisor at its meeting Tuesday on several cases filed last year that named the body as a defendant. Specifically Litten, at Chairman Conrad Helsley's request, told the board about the status of three pending lawsuits filed by Toms Brook resident Mark Prince originally in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp dismissed Prince's lawsuit against the Shenandoah County, the Virginia Resources Authority, SunTrust and the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail Authority in mid October. The complaint centered on the financing of the regional jail under construction in Warren County.

Prince's attorney in this case, Bradley Pollack, filed a petition with the Virginia Supreme Court seeking to appeal the case. A panel of justices from that court was scheduled to hear from the petitioner Tuesday on the brief filed in support of the appeal, Litten said. The attorney told the board he expected legal counsel for the VRA to appear at the hearing. Litten said he would likely know in the near future whether the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal.

Prince commented by phone Tuesday that he likely has spent more time on the lawsuits than the attorneys involved.

He said the lawsuits were a last resort because he had gone to the Board of Supervisors "repeatedly before I resorted to the courts and asked for input. I have received nothing but a brush off.

"In addition, what is this costing me, because that's significant. This is taxpayers' money that they are using and they're using this as a springboard to try to demean what I'm doing," he said.

Prince added that his lawsuit would hold a significant impact on the state should he prevail. Winning the lawsuit would result in "returning the vote to the people," he said.

He noted that each case he has filed deals with the question he has raised about whether the county board and other entities had the right to incur debt without the consent of the voters through a referendum.

A second lawsuit - one of two filed under seal in the local court - names U.S. Bank and SunTrust. The case comes up Thursday in the circuit court, according to Litten. The state attorney general's office will seek to dismiss the lawsuit, Litten said.

The third and most recent lawsuit brought against the Board of Supervisors involves the financing of the Edinburg School rehabilitation project. Prince and Martha Shruntz, identified as an intervener in the lawsuit, filed motions asking Hupp to reconsider a ruling he made in the case. Hupp denied a motion filed by the plaintiff. Litten told the board he would appear in court Thursday to present a proposed final order to Hupp seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit.

Litten said he would "fully expect" the lawsuit to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In response to a question by Vice Chairman Dennis Morris, Litten said the case filed related to the jail financing has cost the county approximately $14,000. Litten said he remains hopeful that amount does not increase. That depends on the actions of the Supreme Court.

The second lawsuit Litten cited cost approximately $1,600, the attorney said.

The lawsuit over the Edinburg School project financing has cost the county $17,000, an amount Litten said he doesn't expect to increase.

Litten told the board he doesn't expect the Supreme Court will agree to hear the appeal on the jail lawsuit. The attorney added that he predicts the other lawsuits will go away as well.

"I don't think there's enough juice in these three suits to cause you a lot more trouble," Litten said.

The attorney said the second of the two lawsuits filed under seal remains sealed. Litten told the board the case likely will be unsealed in the future. However, Prince may withdraw the lawsuit, Litten said.

Legal costs related to the lawsuit over the jail financing likely go beyond Litten's estimate because the case involves more parties, Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli noted. The RSW Regional Jail Authority has its own legal counsel.

"That will come back to all of us in Shenandoah County," Baroncelli said.

The county pays twice for the legal counsel related to the jail lawsuit - Litten's costs and a portion of the fees for the authority's attorney, he said. However, Litten noted he did not go to Richmond for the hearing before the Supreme Court knowing that the VRA had legal counsel present.

"I'm not trying to duplicate any work done by the other counsel," Litten said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com











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