Commonwealth Attorney asks to stop case against Bailey

Published 12:22 pm Monday, July 29, 2013

ISLE OF WIGHT—The Suffolk Commonwealth Attorney has concluded, for now, there’s not enough to go on to have Isle of Wight County Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey removed from office as the Newport District representative. The request to stop the case was filed along with a 12-page investigative report filed Friday in the county’s circuit court.

“At this time, after a thorough review of the facts of this case and the applicable law, this case simply does not meet the removal requirements under Virginia Code Section 24.2-233,” wrote Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walton.

Suffolk is involved because IOW CA Wayne Farmer had to recuse himself from the matter.

Bailey and Herb DeGroft, the school board member representing Hardy District, are each the subject of recall petitions since refusing to resign after repeated demands from county officials and residents.

The controversy began mid-May when they were revealed to have privately circulated emails containing crude humor. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were the subjects of several of the pages. Fellow board members and county staff were recipients.

The report lists not only those four emails, but also a remark Bailey made that month in a budget work session.

The CA’s report has reported his quote, “I guess if we could be like Washington, can we print some money in Isle of Wight County? Save your confederate money, the South will rise again.”

(In May, The Tidewater News reported his quote, “I guess we could be like Washington and print some money here in Isle of Wight County. Save the Confederate money; the South will rise again.”)

Also as reported by the paper, many people present laughed, though some were reported to have been offended and left.

Dottie Harris told the supervisors present at a May 16 meeting that all this was hurtful and offensive to herself and other African-Americans of the county. She is president of the IOW NAACP, and made the first demand both men resign.

Bailey and DeGroft have repeatedly apologized in public and in print, but each has refused to leave office.

“That is not to say that Bailey’s actions are being condoned. It is quite understandable why the petitioners filed this action and felt that Bailey should be removed from office,” the report continues. “County officials and other citizens variously referred to Bailey’s conduct as being “unprofessional,” “insensitive,” “offensive,” “inappropriate,” “political,” “egregious,” “disenfranchising,” and “hurtful.” Bailey himself called his actions “hurtful.”

Nevertheless, the report reiterates there’s an insufficiency to meet conditions in getting an elected official taken from office. So, following the law, the Commonwealth will ask the court to non-suit the issue.

“If we have sufficient evidence to proceed we can do so,” Ferguson told the newspaper Friday. “If not, we stop or file non-suit, which is exactly what we have done.”

Earlier in July, the matter against DeGroft was filed as a non-suit owing to a lack of valid signatures on the petition. The hearing for Bailey is still set for 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 12 in IOW circuit court. The judge could approve the motion then.

Ferguson went on to say that if evidence appeared to justify pursuing the matter, the CA could do so. There’s a six-month time limit, though, and anything thereafter would require starting over, he added.

“We had some duty to explain why we took the actions we did. We felt it was more important we did so. We did the research, interviewed the witnesses, etc. We laid out all the facts,” Ferguson said. “We reached our conclusions. The report speaks for itself. It says what it says.”

The report closed as follows:

“The position of supervisor belongs to the people of Isle of Wight County. At this point Mr. Bailey must decide whether he can continue to effectively represent the citizens of Isle of Wight County or whether the citizens would be better served by his stepping down. Should Mr. Bailey decide voluntarily to step down it would be a prudent and statesmanlike decision and show that he is acting in the best interests of the people of Isle of Wight County.”

Neither Bailey nor his defense attorney, H. Woodward Crook, would be reached for comment.

“If he were a true gentleman as he claims to be? If he really cared about the citizens of Isle of Wight and all negative publicity he’s caused, he would step down,” said Brenda Lee about Bailey. She is co-captain of the recall petition committee. Joe Puglisi is the other leader.

Lee said she understood the report to mean that the case could come back if Bailey does something else wrong, “which I’m sure he will,” she added.

“We feel we have won. We may not have been successful in removing him from office, but we have opened the citizens of Newport District and Isle of Wight’s eyes to the fact that the supervisors are not held accountable,” she continued. “There are no written policies for things they say that are racist. There’s nothing to prevent them from sending racist or sexist emails.”