Local attorney, judge help in controversial case

Published 11:36 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The twisted saga of a citizen effort to remove four members of Gloucester County’s Board of Supervisors from office has drawn in two members of the local legal community.

Substitute Judge Westbrook J. Parker this week appointed John T. “Jack” Randall to serve in the place of the Gloucester Commonwealth’s Attorney in the civil removal proceedings.

Parker, a Franklin resident, is chief judge for Virginia’s Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton. Randall, who lives in Southampton County, is an attorney with the Suffolk law firm Stallings & Bischoff, P.C. Until this summer, he was an assistant prosecutor in Southampton under Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke.

Randall has been appointed to represent the interests of the commonwealth in the Gloucester court case, which he described as “a civil proceeding, but quasi-criminal.”

The case resulted from a petition drive led by Gloucester Citizens for Accountable Representation, which called on four supervisors to be removed from office for conducting public business in secret and for losing the confidence of their constituents.

All four also face misdemeanor criminal charges associated with allegedly illegal closed meetings and with unpopular and inscrutable personnel decisions made by the board.

Randall replaces Gloucester Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert D. Hicks in the civil case, and a prosecutor from Virginia Beach has been named to work the criminal case.

“This is something that is rare,” Randall said Tuesday, explaining the need for both a special advocate and a special judge.

Randall said he already has spent about 10 hours on the case meeting with Gloucester officials and lawyers. He said he would first have to determine whether the petition filed by the Gloucester citizens was proper and, second, whether the things alleged in the petition are grounds for removal.

Coming into a politically charged situation as a “totally unbiased” outsider, he said, will allow him to offer impartial advice to the citizens’ group and to help assure that the interests of the commonwealth are sufficiently represented.

The citizens’ group presented petitions with 6,000 signatures in September. Since then, however, the supervisors have challenged the validity of the petitions, and they have asked the court to delay the civil trial until the criminal one is complete.

“There are a number of motions” before the court, Randall said.