Virginia

How Virginia's Attorney General Puts the State Before the Citizenry

Why is Mark Herring carrying water for a state agency when he should be securing the rights of the people?

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring hardly had time to hang new curtains in his office before he announced he would not defend Virginia's marriage amendment. Since then he has tried valiantly to depict that decision as a work of noble note.

He says he cannot, in good conscience, defend a law that violates the Constitution: "It's time for the commonwealth to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law." Besides, he added, "It is completely within the power of the attorney general to refuse to defend in court a law that he has determined to be unconstitutional after an independent, rigorous analysis."

That view has received support from other legal notables, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and A.E. Dick Howard, the University of Virginia law professor who headed up the commission that wrote Virginia's current constitution.

But Herring didn't merely decline to defend the marriage amendment. Even though the attorney general is, for all intents and purposes, the house lawyer for the state, he went so far as to side with the plaintiffs. It is a principled stand—and a politically convenient one for a Democratic politician with designs on the governor's office.

Last week, his press office sent out a release boasting that "Herring was the first state attorney general to successfully fight at the district and appellate level for his state's (gay) marriage ban to be struck down." Just in case you'd forgotten.

Virginia's marriage amendment is an excrescence, and it will be a bright day in history when it is stricken from the books. But Herring's conscientious objection to its patent injustice has not carried over to another case in which the inequities and iniquities are, if not as great, at least as clear.

A few years ago the Virginia Department of Transportation wanted a piece of land belonging to James and Janet Ramsey of Virginia Beach. VDOT took the property through eminent domain, as it certainly has the authority to do, and it wanted the land for a clearly public purpose: an off-ramp along Route 264. So far so good.

VDOT's appraiser estimated the value of the land at $246,292. The Ramseys thought it was worth more, so the dispute headed to court for resolution. The appraiser retired, and a new appraiser pegged the value of the land at only $92,127.

This sort of thing happens a lot; property-rights lawyers in some parts of the country call it sandbagging. In another Virginia Beach case, the appraisal dropped from $210,000 to $17,000. A Prince William case saw the appraised value plunge from $214,000 to $14,000. The message is loud and clear: Take the first offer, or you could get a heck of a lot less.

Yet that's not the worst of it. During the Ramseys' takings proceeding, the jury was not allowed to hear VDOT's initial appraisal. It could only know of the second, much lower one. (Despite that, the jury still found VDOT owed the Ramseys $234,000—a good indication that the second appraisal was far too low.)

The Ramseys objected to that rule, and the case made its way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In mid-April the court's seven justices ruled unanimously in their favor. They had said it before, and they would say it again: "All relevant evidence is admissible."

The court did not impose a final verdict in this David-and-Goliath case. It simply sent the matter back to the lower court for rehearing. The Ramseys still have to argue that their case all over again. Only this time, the jury will get to hear all the evidence.

But perhaps not. Attorney General Herring has sent the Virginia Supreme Court notice he might ask the court to rehear the case—that is, to reverse itself and rule the jury should not get to hear all the evidence after all.

His office says this is a purely procedural matter and doesn't mean it's leaning one way or another. Tell that to the Ramseys. They've waited for a fair settlement for years, and a rehearing at the Supreme Court level would delay further the rehearing at the lower-court level.

Why drag this out any more? Hiding basic facts from a jury insults the very idea of procedural fairness. Telling homeowners one thing and juries another is dishonorable at best. Yet in this case, apparently, the attorney general feels duty-bound to defend the state—rather than to conduct an "independent, rigorous analysis" to make sure the commonwealth is on "the right side of the law."

Judging from the court's unanimity, it looks as if the Ramseys have history on their side, too. So why is Herring still schlepping water for VDOT?

Last year Herring wrote that "the attorney general first and foremost represents the people of Virginia, not just state agencies and agency heads."

Really? He's got a funny way of showing it.

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  1. The Constitution is like the Bible: Factions disagree on which cherries to pick.

  2. Why drag this out any more?

    Because government has all the time in the world. And because they can.

  3. I haz a… you know… surprise.

  4. “It is a principled stand…”

    Ha ha Ha Ha HA HA! HA!

    No, seriously. Your caveats in the paragraph and the rest of the article and the entire history of the Dems on that issue says it is not a principled stand, no matter how much you may agree with it. In fact, the entire history of that movement has been utilitarian.

    1. Indeed. This word principled, I don’t think it means what Hinkle thinks it does.

  5. The Constitution is like a box of chocolates. You only swallow the parts you like.

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  7. I was home on Friday morning. I live in a residential neighborhood well away from any major street. I made the mistake of parking my car in the street in front of my own house without the proper parking placecard and got a $50 ticket for my trouble.

    State and local governments wage war against their citizens. As aggravating as the ticket is for me, at least I can afford to pay it. What if I couldn’t afford it and were visiting a friend or there to clean someone’s house or do some work for them? I would be fucked. Imagine what it is like to live in a big city and be middle class or working poor. There are cops everywhere. The fines for even a parking or the most mundane traffic offense is often well over $100. I don’t have to tell the people on this board, $100 can be the difference between eating and not eating one month for a lot of people. To be poor and barely making it only to have some fucking meter maid nail you for $100 or some asshole cop pull you over and write you up to the tune of God knows how much for a broken tail light has to be just infuriating.

    And we wonder why people hate cops and often want to burn shit down in these places. I would want to burn shit down too if I were them.

    1. I am blessed to live on a private ROAD in one sense – no interference from anyone with guns and the “conferred authoritah” to use it. Yeah, I have to fight with the sometimes-retarded Homeowner’s Assoc (never again if we move)….but they can [sometimes] be reasoned with.

      Cities? Not so much. Like I always say – that’s why I live “in the country”. One of my Proggie friends likes to argue about libertarianism as SOMALIAZ!! I asked her if her curbs had finally been replaced….everyone in her neighborhood had theirs fixed except her and her husband’s place. Hmmm…weird! Ohhhhh – they had a run in with one of the City Counciltards on something as stupid as you’d think….consequence – “NO CITY SERVICES FOR YOU!”

      Who they gonna call – the cops? She shut up, but unfortunately still doesn’t have enough self-realization to understand this is what happens eventually with ALL government EVERYWHERE, ALWAYS.

      I hold out hope….and continue to live in the country.

      1. My wife is a city girl and won’t move to the country. And honestly, I like cities too. The problem is that the governments are making them unlivable. And of course, you go where your job is. Most people in cities are there because they have to be.

        1. I’ve told the story here before about my friends griping about a certain crap teacher, then becoming outraged and arguing with me when I pointed out that unless you have the means, you are stuck with the govenrment run school and the teacher’s union, which will protect the teacher, even if she can’t teach.

          These are educated, professionals and their knee jerk reaction was to defend the status quo. They just couldn’t connect the dots on how they’d be better off without government run schools. I think most people just sort of accept the status quo and can’t imagine anything different.

          1. They live in a bubble. They grew up upper middle class and have no idea how people who don’t have money and jobs and struggle actually live. So, they don’t see how any of these things are a problem. Just pay the fines or remember your placecard. What is the big deal? That is their attitude.

    2. Three weeks ago I got pulled over for speeding at Bush Intercontinental. Don’t know if what he said was true or not but the officer informed me that in Harris County, speeding tickets of up to 10 mph over are now $225, 15 mph it’s $275 and then $5 for every 1 mph over that. The cop was actually very nice and let me go with a warning but I remembered thinking to myself, “okay, you’ve now encountered the ONE decent cop around here, watch out” and “how in the hell could a person on an average income with a family afford to pay that?”

      1. Imagine being someone who is barely making it and getting nailed for that kind of money. It is just fucking evil.

        1. Agreed. Especially because it has a nominal effect on behavior and is nothing but a revenue grab.

  8. Just pay the fines or and remember your placecard, peasant.

  9. The headline should be:

    How the Virginia Attorney General Puts His Political Ambitions Before His Duties.

  10. My roomate’s sister makes $65 hourly on the laptop . She has been laid off for six months but last month her payment was $16050 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
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  11. He says he cannot, in good conscience, defend a law that violates the Constitution

    Interesting position given that the Constitution of the Commonwealth is what he is supposed to defend.

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