You can read accounts in the News Leader or the News Virginian for background on the cases which Chester filed against the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Board of Supervisors. But, media reports miss much of this "drama" that continues playing out not only in the Augusta County Circuit Court, but also among right wing teabaggers and bloggers.
About two dozen spectators endured bad acoustics and an inadequate sound system trying to hear the judge, lawyers, and witnesses discuss the issue of sanctions against Chester who had a little band of supporters and piled his "petitions" high on the table in front of him. Most others in the courtroom were from the county government or the news media. Two members of the Board of Supervisors - Wendell Coleman and Nancy Sorrells - were there. On a beautiful fall afternoon, there had to be better activities than sitting on hard seats in a majestic but gloomy courtroom.
A few random observations:
Chester's attacks on Commissioner Shrewsbury were mostly hollow attempts to question her and her employees' salaries and the amount of time they spent researching his demands. He made cracks about computing average salaries in his head while she used a calculator, but it was hard to discern his point on that or anything else. I guess he's trying to reduce the amount of any sanction, but beyond that, it is hard to see any coherent strategy by the "country lawyer."
At one point the attorney representing the county requested a five minute recess. He promptly left with the County Administrator, the Commissioner of the Revenue, and others to discuss strategy. Mr. Chester was left sitting until he and Lynn Mitchell, aka swacgirl, slipped out the backdoor. Guess that constitutes his brain trust. I awaited a hard hitting defense when the trial resumed. I was to be disappointed.
Chester had asked the judge for a "nonsuit" to withdraw his original cases as a way to dodge sanctions. Judge Victor Ludwig would have none of that since doing so would place a time limit on the county's sanction case. The judge ordered the county to file a written brief in 30 days with Chester's response two weeks later. He noted a number of issues he wanted argued in the briefs including the Virginia Code that deals with sanctions against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits and several legal precedents. For example, shouldn't Mr. Chester have been aware that Virginia does not permit class action suits and that Boards of Supervisors have immunity.
After the judge finished outlining the relevant Code sections and case law to address in the briefs, Mr. Chester requested that the judge again give him the citations. Before patiently doing so, Judge Ludwig admonished him saying, "Those are cases you should have known before you walked in the door, Mr. Chester."
Chester brought this litigation as part of a broader political campaign against the reassessment. To him, suing raised his credibility in the eyes of his supporters and gave him more fodder to fire up the crowd. But, judges rightfully bristle at anyone's attempt to use the courts in this way, especially when there is no sound basis in the law. For that reason, the court should sanction Chester to deter him (and other lawyers) from wasting the court's time and to pay the county back for some of the costs incurred in meeting all his irrational demands.
Like most states, Virginia law holds that frivolous litigation occurs when a competent attorney knows or should know the claim has no merit and little chance of success. So, Mr. Chester may have some creative arguments up his sleeve that can convince the judge that sanctions should not apply to him. But, I'm not holding my breath.