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Did Town Council’s December 1 ‘Special Closed Meeting’ violate multiple FOIA laws?



Royal Examiner editorial department staff have occasionally pondered the often overly vague language of motions used to adjourn to Executive/Closed Sessions, particularly on the Town side of local municipal government. Those motions and the information in them are guided by Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) standards on a variety of levels. Royal Examiner recently contacted Virginia FOIA Advisory Council Executive Director Alan Gernhardt about those standards, particularly as they applied to a December 1 “Special Closed Meeting” of the Front Royal Town Council called by Mayor Chris Holloway.

Gernhardt’s response referenced a history of Virginia FOIA Advisory Council opinions on the state standards for balancing the public’s right to know how they are being governed by their elected officials and those officials’ occasional need for some degree of secrecy, generally in competitive bidding, property transactional, legal, and personnel matters. How the wording of motions to adjourn to Closed/Executive Session must balance these sometimes-conflicting standards in a democratically based but also economically competitive and sometimes legally contentious society, revolve around three elements. Those are (1) the subject of the closed meeting; (2) the purpose of the closed meeting; and (3) reference to the applicable FOIA law section exempting the meeting from the public view.

File photos during a previous Front Royal Town Council Closed Session in Town Hall. On December 1, 2021, council could not use the second floor meeting room due to a previously scheduled planning commission meeting, so moved to the first-floor Finance Dpt. section of the building, which was totally locked to public access for at least a portion of that meeting. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“The law clearly states, and this office has previously opined, that a motion that lacks any of these three elements would be insufficient under the law,” one example of an earlier state FOIA Advisory Council opinion Gernhardt provided to Royal Examiner states. However, it adds that: “… when identifying the subject of a closed meeting, the subject need not be so specific as to defeat the reason for going into the closed session but should at least provide the public with general information as to why the closed meeting will be held.”

This information takes us to the motion used to convene the December 1 Special Meeting closed session announced the previous day. That motion circulated with the “Town Council Special Closed Meeting” agenda prior to the meeting, reads in its entirety: “I move that Town Council go into Closed Meeting pursuant to Section 2.2-3711.A.7 of the Code of Virginia for consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members or consultants pertaining to actual or probable litigation involving a former employee of the Town, where such consultation or briefing in Open Meeting would adversely affect the negotiating or litigating posture of the public body.”

For starters, the passage “pertaining to actual or probable litigation involving a former employee” seems far too vague to comply with state FOIA statutes since the discussion seemingly involves only one former employee, hence one litigation – So, which is it, actual or probable litigation?

The question is an important one because whether the litigation has been filed and has appeared on a court docket impacts the degree of specificity or vagueness with which the “subject” or “purpose” of the meeting may be described. For unfiled litigation, Gernhardt told us such descriptions as “litigation with a former employee” are sufficient to meet FOIA requirements because “it says more than just ‘litigation matters’ while not disclosing the actual nature or details” of a case yet to be filed on a court docket.

Photo of minutes of Dec. 1 Town Council ‘Special Closed Meeting’ approved by council on Dec. 13. The only open portions of the meeting were the motions to go into closed session, and coming out certifying that only topics cited in first motion were discussed behind closed doors. But what active litigation, as Royal Examiner has been told it was, involving what ‘former employee’ was discussed? The Town will not specify, despite FOIA law precedents pointing toward more than vague litigation references for filed court cases. Note, the meeting time was announced the previous day as 6:30 p.m.

Regarding legal cases that have been filed with detail of an alleged cause made by a specific party made public through the court system, Gernhardt said somewhat more specificity is required. “For litigation matters, I generally would recommend using the style of the case if it has already been filed and appears on a public docket,” he said. “Style” in this case appearing to reference at base minimum, whom the litigation is with. That is the policy that Warren County and its post-financial scandal, re-tooled Economic Development Authority (EDA) have taken with all motions on existing litigation.

Just two days after town council’s vaguely adjourned to Special Closed Meeting of December 1, the County EDA adjourned to a 12-item Closed Meeting that included six real estate, four legal, one bank re-financing/legal, and one personnel matter. ALL 12 matters were identified as to “subject” by name with some degree of purpose though not to a degree to defeat the purpose of having the discussion behind closed doors by FOIA requirements. Ironically, three of the four legal matters related to litigation between the County EDA and the Town of Front Royal municipal government. We will include that litigation portion of the EDA motion to illustrate what we believe is a FOIA-compliant motion into closed on existing legal matters, now being used by both the County and its EDA:

“4. CLOSED MEETING Dec. 3, 2021, motion into: … · 4 matters – Consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members pertaining to actual or probable litigation, where such consultation or briefing in open meeting would adversely affect the negotiating or litigating posture of the public body, EDA v. Jennifer McDonald, et al., EDA v. Town of Front Royal, Town of Front Royal v. EDA, and legal advice related thereto and regarding other matters relating to claims of the Town of Front Royal pursuant to Va. Code §§ 2.2-3711.A.7 and 8.”

To contrast, let’s revisit the Town motion in question as presented and approved in that meeting’s minutes as having been read into the record by Vice-Mayor Lorie Cockrell, seconded by Letasha Thompson: “I move that Town Council go into Closed Meeting pursuant to Section 2.2-3711.A.7 of the Code of Virginia for consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members or consultants pertaining to actual or probable litigation involving a former employee of the Town, where such consultation or briefing in Open Meeting would adversely affect the negotiating or litigating posture of the public body.”

On the Town side it appears one of the three elements required by FOIA law – “subject” is missing in that whether it is an unfiled “probable” litigation or an “actual” litigation that has been filed, say for example former Council Clerk Jennifer Berry’s federal sexual harassment suit, at the time scheduled for trial in February 2022, is not specified.

And were it to be filed litigation that was discussed behind closed doors December 1, is it possible a second key element, “purpose”, is missing? For the only purpose cited in the motion is “consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members or consultants”. Could that be enough “purpose” to satisfy FOIA law regarding “actual” litigation in what was called as an “emergency meeting” as will be discussed in more detail here later; or would additional detail such as “discussion of approaching filing deadlines” be required?

Royal Examiner spoke to Jennifer Berry’s attorney, Tim Cupp, in her suit against the Town on December 1st looking for clues the closed session might have been called regarding his client’s case. While declining to speculate why the mayor had called that special closed meeting, Cupp did note that December 1 was the final day for Discovery motions filings in the Berry case on the Harrisonburg federal Western District of Virginia docket slated for trial in February. Could it be a coincidence that within days of the Front Royal Town Council’s “Special Closed Meeting” of December 1, the Berry vs. Town of Front Royal federal sexual harassment trial in which Mayor Holloway has been named as a figure in alleged attempts to have Berry withdraw a related internal complaint involving former vice mayor and councilman William Sealock, was rescheduled to May 2022?

File photos from a council meeting and work session before Council Clerk Jennifer Berry, above right’s, position was eliminated by downsizing of town staff during interim town managership of Matt Tederick, and prior to her filing a federal lawsuit citing alleged sexual harassment by former councilman and vice-mayor Bill Sealock. Berry also alleged then Councilman Chris Holloway, above left, among others, attempted to get her to withdraw an internal complaint about the alleged behavior. According to her suit’s timeline it appeared the full council was aware of Berry’s allegations against the vice mayor by the time of these January 2020 meetings.

Ultimately, as Gernhardt pointed out to Royal Examiner, a determination on meeting FOIA law compliance would be determined by a judge were a complaint to be filed that it had not been in a particular case. Gernhardt also provided Royal Examiner with a Virginia Supreme Court ruling, BEVERLY COLE, INDIVIDUALLY, ET AL. v. SMYTH COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, ET AL. (No. 17120 May 28, 2020), which overturned a lower court decision, and mandates the above-referenced “subject” and “purpose” standards.

In that case, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Smyth County Board of Supervisors used an improper motion to go into closed session and talked about matters beyond the scope of the claimed exemption.

While exploring FOIA law regarding the above issues of adequate “subject” and “purpose” standards being met in convening the December 1 “Special Closed Meeting” two other factors attracted Royal Examiner editorial staff’s attention. Those were, first, the short turnaround on notice of the meeting being circulated, approximately 27 hours, as opposed to the three-day minimum public notice for non-emergency special meetings; and second, the fact that both access doors to the section of the Front Royal Town Hall where the special meeting was taking place were locked while the meeting was still in progress.

Locked Out or Not Locked Out?

Notice of the council special meeting emailed to the media at 3:22 p.m., Tuesday, November 30, by Town Administrative Assistant and Council Clerk Tina Presley read: “The mayor has called a special closed meeting for Wednesday, December 1, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.”

With a Town Planning Commission work session on a new short-term tourist rental ordinance under development scheduled for 6 p.m. in the second-floor meeting room town council normally uses for meetings at Town Hall, it was unclear exactly where that council special meeting would be held. In response to inquiries, it was eventually determined to be somewhere in the Finance Department section of Town Hall. That section is on the Crescent Street/Afton Inn side of the first floor of Town Hall to the left as you enter the primary, East Main Street entrance.

We note this because when the December 1st planning commission meeting ended around 7 p.m., the two media present, this reporter and Alex Bridges of the Northern Virginia Daily, attempted to enter the Finance Department section of town hall to ascertain if the council special meeting was still in progress and await its adjournment for any announcement or action. Finding the access door locked, we sought the assistance of Planning Director Lauren Kopishke, mingling with planning commission members on their way out of town hall. Surprisingly, Kopishke found that her access code credential was somehow disabled, preventing her assisting media access to the area of the council special meeting.

Press also established that the rear parking lot outside access door, the only other entrance to that section of the building, was also locked between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. Town Manager Steven Hicks later informed the press that once out of closed, the open meeting was adjourned at 7:46 p.m. without any announcement or action.

Town Manager Steven Hicks, center, holds council’s attention at an earlier 2021 work session in town hall’s second-floor meeting room where ‘To lock or not to lock the outside access doors’ was not the Shakespearean question at hand.

So, in addition to questions about FOIA public disclosure standards being met, the additional question of public/press access to the open portions of the special meeting were raised. Questioned about this, Hicks told Royal Examiner that the doors in question had been unlocked at the meeting’s convening and adjournment, so that any public or press present could have accessed the open portions of the meeting. Unfortunately, no member of the press or public, to our knowledge, was present at those specific times of 6:30 and 7:46 p.m. to test that timely locking and unlocking scenario.

Special or Emergency Meeting?

Council Clerk and Administrative Assistant Tina Presley sent media an e-mailed notice of the meeting at 3:22 p.m. Tuesday, November 30, some 27 hours prior to the meeting’s announced 6:30 p.m. open session starting time the following evening. In a Dec. 2nd telephone conversation regarding the special meeting’s announcement, Ms. Presley relayed to Royal Examiner’s Norma Jean Shaw, “I just did what the mayor asked me to do.” When asked why she didn’t post the meeting notice on social media or the Town’s website Presley stated, “I guess I could have, but I only sent it to the three local reporters who normally cover the council meetings.”

The fact the meeting was bypassing the normal three-day minimum public notice of municipal government meetings indicated that it was not only a “special meeting,” but an “emergency” one requiring immediate attention for one reason or another.

Was there sufficient reason, as the town manager contends there was, to designate an “emergency” meeting that allowed less than three-days’ public notice? Because of the ongoing refusal of the town administrative or contracted legal staff to elaborate on the subject or purpose of what is now admitted to have been closed session discussion of existing litigation, your guess is as good as ours. But is the fact we are still guessing at answers to numerous questions about that behind-closed-doors meeting an indication that the Front Royal Town government is in ongoing violation of Virginia Freedom of Information Act standards?

Perhaps a judge will tell us.

Could answers to questions about the subject and purpose of town council’s Dec. 1 ‘Special Closed Meeting’ be mandated by a local judge? Perhaps, though it appears the Va. Supreme Court has already weighed in on the issue regarding filed litigation requiring more “subject” and “purpose” specificity than unfiled to convene into closed session.

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EDA in Focus

Realigned WC EDA approves internal and external committee appointments, adds marketing costs to FY-2024 budget request



The Front Royal Warren County EDA held its monthly meeting on Friday, March 24, 2023, at 8 a.m. Six Board members, legal counsel, and the County Director of Economic Development were present. Board Member Rob MacDougall participated remotely.

The regular meeting began with Committee Reports. Board Chair Scott Jenkins referenced the reports attached to the agenda packet and provided updates on recent meetings. The Board approved appointments to the Asset, Finance, Small Business Loan, Avtex, and Workforce Committees. The Board also elected J.D. Walter as its new Vice-Chair and Hayden Ashworth as Assistant Secretary.

Treasurer Jim Wolfe, and Director of Economic Development Joe Petty provided an update on the EDA financial statements and noted that the Board of Supervisors is still reviewing the EDA’s proposed Fiscal Year 2023/24 budget. The EDA Board then approved a motion to add $40,000 for marketing to its budget request.

Under new business, Member Jorie Martin first announced that the next Open-Door Business Session will focus on Workforce and is rescheduled to June with more details to come. The Board then approved a memorandum that uses revenue from a recent lawsuit settlement to reimburse the County as part of a loan agreement.

The Board concluded the meeting with a closed session to discuss potential disposition of real property to business prospects, the small business loan committee applications, and legal consultation on active litigation. Following the closed session, the board approved the appointments of Jennifer Avery, Bryon Biggs, Susan Laurence, and Herbert Melrath to the Small Business Loan Committee. The EDA looks forward to working with them.

The next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Friday, April 28, 2023, at 8 a.m., at the Warren County Government Center.

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Town Mayor Cockrell and County Economic Development Director Petty react to the Shenandoah Rail Trail event and public feedback



Royal Examiner asked several local officials who participated in Thursday evening’s Shenandoah Rail Trail presentation what they thought of the project, the public turnout, and feedback about the project. Front Royal Mayor Lori Cockrell introduced the evening’s event and some Rail Trail Partnership and local officials present for it, including Warren County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty. We queried both the town mayor and county economic development director on their perspectives.

Front Royal Mayor Lori Cockrell and County Director of Economic Development Joe Petty were among local officials mingling before the 7 p.m. start of the program’s agenda.

“I think the partnership prepared an excellent event. It provided information as well as opportunities to ask questions and share concerns and input. There was a large group of engaged people in attendance. I think I counted between 120-130 people,” Mayor Cockrell began, adding, “I was very encouraged by all the positive feedback I received. I even spoke with people who have previously lived in other communities with rail trails who have moved to our area. They were excited about having an opportunity like this locally.

“I also spoke with people who had concerns because they lived on property that borders the rail corridor. I think they had valid concerns. I connected them with members of the partnership who could gather their concerns and hopefully address them moving forward. That’s what last night was all about, getting the community’s input,” Cockrell concluded of the ongoing process of developing a citizen-friendly project.

County Economic Development Director Petty concurred with the mayor’s overall perception: “I thought the meeting went well and there was a good turnout. I was able to have open conversations with members of the community that are in support, have questions, or concerned with the project; and look forward to continuing those discussions with all of them in the future. I believe meetings similar to last night are important in order to engage with the public,” Petty said of the project’s developmental process.

Many citizens and officials arrived early and perused informational table displays manned by Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership volunteers and staff.

“I also spoke with individuals regarding the economic impacts as defined in the Economic Impact Analysis, and how we can further highlight and explore the local benefits as well as expand on the regional benefits,” Petty concluded.

Mayor Cockrell concurred on the importance of the Economic Development Analysis:

“One area that was not focused on during the event was the specific numbers that came out of the Economic Impact Analysis. Benefits to our community were shared, but I think if citizens had the opportunity to see actual predicted numbers, actual dollars, they might be even more enthusiastic about the project!” she concluded with an exclamation point by email.

It was a full Fire & Rescue Company 1 parking lot – trust me, way beyond the front section pictured here – for the Shenandoah Rail Trail public informational meeting of March 23rd.


Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership makes its case as a beneficial project, not only to Front Royal, but communities throughout the Valley


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Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership makes its case as a beneficial project, not only to Front Royal, but communities throughout the Valley



On Thursday evening, March 23rd, representatives of the Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership gathered with local municipal officials from the Town of Front Royal and Warren County at the community meeting room of Front Royal Fire & Rescue Company 1 on Commerce Avenue for an informational presentation and community feedback opportunity.

Front Royal Mayor Lori A. Cockrell initiates the meeting agenda with a welcome from the host town government, and introduction of other local and Rail Trail Partnership participants. Below, it was a well attended event. Some present were still at surrounding informational tables as the official presentations began.

The Shenandoah Rail Trail project would convert abandoned railroad lines to community and tourist-friendly “walking, hiking, jogging, cycling (non-motorized it appears) and more” non-intrusive recreational uses. The proposed project would connect, not only communities from Front Royal/Warren County on its northeast to Broadway in Rockingham County at the south end of the trail, but also sections of each community to each other.

“Up and down the route, the trail connects students to school, employees to work, customers to shops, diners to restaurants, and community members to parks, rivers and historic sites,” a pamphlet available to attendees notes in its summary of the project. Of the planned path, it adds: “The rail corridor, once a community and economic hub of towns from Broadway to Front Royal, has not seen trains as far back as 1989. The tracks are now overgrown and, in some areas, completely unusable.”

Abandoned, overgrown railroad tracks or a transformed ‘Rail Trail’ connecting communities for low-impact recreational walks and bike rides. Below, informational tables drew members of the public, here including FR Councilman ‘Skip’ Rogers, left in white shirt, and WC Supervisor Walt Mabe, right blue shirt, prior to official agenda presentations.

The project includes the communities of Front Royal, Strasburg, Woodstock, Tom’s Brook, Edinburg, Mount Jackson, New Market, Timberville, and Broadway. Of the benefit to the
average Shenandoah Valley citizen of these communities, the Shenandoah Rail Trail group observes that many of the existing trails in National Parks and elsewhere “are remote and, by the nature of the terrain, suited for advanced trail users.

“Our rail trail is flat, primarily rural and scenic, and easily accessed from many towns and neighborhoods. It will be a safe and easy way to get outside to walk, run or roll with family members of all ages and abilities.”

Perspectives from the Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership website

The rail trail group also points to potential economic benefit from realization of the project in improving easily accessible amenities for area citizens – a plus for companies looking to locate in areas that provide “a high quality of life to the folks they employ” — and those folks could include locals recruited by new businesses moving into the valley.

The friendly nature of a flat, scenic walking, hiking and biking trail can also attract regional tourists, expanding the customer base for local shops, restaurants, and other businesses accessible from the rail trail.

Learn more by visiting <>

Town Mayor Cockrell and County Economic Development Director Petty react to the Shenandoah Rail Trail event and public feedback


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Federal Court ruling on McDonald criminal defense motion for change of trial venue may come this week



Update: As of March 14 our information is no decision has yet been rendered by the federal court judge on the McDonald defense motion for a change of venue for criminal trial slated for this mid-May to June.

On Wednesday, March 8th, the first pre-trial motions hearing in the federal 10th Western District of Virginia criminal cases against Jennifer McDonald related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA) financial scandal will be held. One might anticipate a ruling by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dalton on McDonald’s defense motion to have the jury trial moved from Harrisonburg to Charlottesville. Other pre-trial motions are scheduled for March 28th and May 4th.

What is anticipated to be a five-week or longer trial on her 34 federal criminal indictments is scheduled to begin May 15, running into June. McDonald faces 16 counts of money laundering, 10 counts of bank fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft, the latter related to the Truc “Curt” Tran/ITFederal case.

Federal court-appointed defense counsel for McDonald, Eric Trodden, filed the change of venue for trial last month. He asserts that his client is not likely to get an unbiased jury in Harrisonburg due to Shenandoah Valley regional media reporting about McDonald and other related civil cases in which she was a witness or topic of legal arguments pointing a finger at her alleged role as the central figure in the estimated $26-million financial embezzlement and misappropriation of FR-WC EDA funds scandal.

Jennifer McDonald mugshot following July 2019 arrest on initial criminal charges filed while prosecution was based in Warren County. Below, the FBI and Va. State Police on site seizing potential evidence at the FR-WC EDA office in April 2019.

There have been numerous delays in criminal prosecutions as the EDA criminal cases were moved due to local conflicts of interest or dropped due to speedy trial concerns surrounding the voluminous amount of evidentiary material, now estimated at over a million pages. For the most part, McDonald has been free on bond or out of jail as initial criminal charges were dropped at the state level due to those speedy trial concerns. Those jurisdiction moves were, first, from Warren County’s Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office to Rockingham County’s prosecutors office in Harrisonburg, then to the above-referenced federal district court also in Harrisonburg.

Last year McDonald was indicted on those 34 federal criminal charges related to the FR-WC EDA financial scandal of 2014-18 during her decade tenure as EDA executive director. As previously reported by Royal Examiner and others, EDA attorneys went on a civil case trial winning streak beginning in July of 2022 and ending in October with the initially delayed civil liability trial of McDonald’s husband, Samuel North. EDA counsel won 5 of 5 verdicts of personal liability, 7 of 7, including two related company liability findings in 2 of those cases. Total liability found by those five civil case juries, including compensatory, punitive, and statutory conspiracy findings, amounted to about $14 million. With out-of-court settlements, including a “no-fault” agreement with McDonald for real estate estimated at about a $9-million value, the EDA has, on paper, recovered about $24 million. (See related stories on the Royal Examiner website).

EDA civil case legal team from Sands-Anderson law firm, led by Cullen Seltzer, left, here with Kimberly Paulsrud, was on a mid-2022 civil liability roll, winning jury judgments totaling about $14 million in five trials against seven defendants, including two companies, ITFederal and Earth Right Energy, tied to involved defendants.

And while the related civil cases were held in Warren County Circuit Court in Front Royal, that local and regional reporting of McDonald’s often given 5th Amendment responses asserting her Constitutional right not to self-incriminate, in addition to EDA attorneys descriptions of her as the orchestrator of an alleged conspiracy to misdirect municipal and EDA assets to her and others personal gain, may have found its way to potential jurors in Harrisonburg is more than likely, her defense counsel asserts. The fact that Charlottesville, while only 11 miles further from Front Royal at 74 miles to Harrisonburg’s 63 miles, is considerably east of Harrisonburg and not part of the Shenandoah Valley-based regional media has largely insulated the Charlottesville community’s potential jury pool from the story, McDonald’s attorney believes. And the slight difference in distance from Front Royal/Warren County will not cause undue hardship on witnesses based in Front Royal and Warren County, McDonald’s attorney argues in his motion for the venue change.

Will the federal judge agree? – Get the popcorn and stay tuned for Wednesday’s pre-trial motions hearing, and we may find out.


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County’s EDA Board authorizes another confidential settlement agreement at end of monthly meeting review of ongoing projects and opportunities



The Front Royal-Warren County EDA held their monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, at 8 a.m. All five Board members and the County Director of Economic Development were present at the Warren County Government Center Caucus Room. Following a closed session at the meeting’s conclusion, the board approved a resolution accepting another confidential settlement agreement. It is believed the agreement involves multiple civil litigation defendants in the 2014-2018 FR-WC EDA financial scandal cases. The wording of a portion of the motion to accept the confidential agreement states: “WHEREAS, the EDA desires to enter into the confidential settlement agreement with confidential parties providing for a confidential settlement payment to the EDA;”. There was no action on the other closed session topic, “business opportunities”.

As part of the Committee Reports, Board Chair Jeff Browne provided an update on the marketing plan in anticipation of formalizing the path forward at the next meeting. Mr. Browne also gave an overview of the presentation that he and the Director of Economic Development, Joe Petty, provided to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s (VEDP’s) Business Investment Team earlier this month.

Treasurer, Jim Wolfe, and Joe Petty provided an update on the proposed FY-2023-24 and FY-2024-25 Budgets, and they will be reviewed by the County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, March 2 at 7:30 PM.

Secretary, Jorie Martin, gave a recap of the recently held Open-Door Business Session hosted at the Virginia Inland Port on February 23, 2023.

Mr. Petty provided an update on the Department’s recent activities that including meeting with prospects, planning for upcoming regional programs, and presentations at meetings both locally and out-of-town.

As a follow up to old business the County and EDA will continue to move forward on IT (Information Technology) and social media programs that include resolving security and administrative rights to access profiles and data to ensure that all information is secure and up-to-date.

Presented as new business, Jorie Martin and Scott Jenkins provided the Board with a draft Request For Information (RFI) for the Avtex Redevelopment Site. The Board agreed to share the working document with the Town, as well as County, in order to provide additional feedback on the final version. There was also a discussion regarding ongoing work on a financial process Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the EDA and the County to consolidate multiple agreements and clarify the process moving forward.

The next regular monthly Board meeting will be held on Friday, March 24, 2023, at 8:00 AM at the Warren County Government Center Caucus Room.

(From a release by the FR-WC EDA)

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EDA officials, attorneys mum on circumstance of Rappawan/Vaught Jr. civil case dismissal – But a good guess might be…



The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has made another out-of-court resolution of part of the civil litigation surrounding the financial scandal alleged to have been orchestrated by former FR-WC EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald between 2014 and 2018. In the wake of a jointly filed motion of December 21, 2022, filed with the court six days later, the  EDA’s civil claim against Rappawan Inc. and company official William T. Vaught Jr. was dismissed “with prejudice” – meaning it cannot be refiled.

Vaught Jr. and Rappawan were involved in a 2016 transfer of real estate assets with Jennifer McDonald over a 37 day period in which McDonald, utilizing her DaBoyz real estate company and EDA assets according to the civil action claim, bought a piece of property from Rappawan/Vaught Jr. for $1.9-million dollars, then sold it back to Rappawan/Vaught Jr. 37 days later for $1.3 million, absorbing a $600,000 loss. The EDA alleges McDonald made the transactions with EDA assets and without the knowledge or approval of the EDA Board of Directors.

Royal Examiner contacted what is now the unilaterally Warren County-overseen FR-WC EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne about the December resolution of the Rappawan/Vaught Jr. civil action. Browne explained that as part of that resolution he could not comment on the case dismissal. EDA counsel Cullen Seltzer and Executive Director Joe Petty both confirmed the gag order on details of the EDA/Rappawan/Vaught Jr. joint filing for dismissal of the civil case.

But with the EDA and its contracted Sands-Anderson legal counsels’ 5-for-5 track record in five civil jury findings of liability against 7 other civil case defendants last year, one might hazard a guess the EDA did not agree to the binding dismissal without realizing at least a significant compensatory claim in either real estate or cash as part of that dismissal agreement – let’s take a wild guess, somewhere in the $600,000 range.

File photo of EDA’s Sands Anderson legal team leaving the Warren County Courthouse last year during its five civil trial winning streak against a total of seven defendants awarding over $14 million in civil liability claims to the EDA. Seven more defendants – 3 companies, 4 people – have sought and received a continuation on their trials originally slated to begin March 13. Those trials seeking over $4 million in collective liability are likely to be rescheduled for June, following Jennifer McDonald’s criminal trial in the Western District of Virginia federal court in Harrisonburg. That initial criminal prosecution in the EDA financial scandal case is scheduled for as many as 5 weeks in May-June.

In four trials last July and one more in October, five people and two companies were found liable for over $14 million in compensatory, punitive, and statutory conspiracy damages by Warren County civil trial juries. Judge Bruce D. Albertson later dismissed all defendant motions to have the jury verdicts overturned.

Judge notifies involved parties of denial of all defense motions to overturn jury verdicts in EDA civil liability cases

As previously reported, the EDA reached an out-of-court, “no-fault” settlement with McDonald for an estimated $9-million in real estate assets held in her or one of her real estate companies names. It would appear that such out-of-court settlements shield defendants against punitive or statutory conspiracy claims that tacked significant additional financial liability to several defendants in civil case verdicts handed down in July and October 2022.

This chart does not include the jury’s October ruling on McDonald’s husband Samuel North’s liability. North was found liable for the base compensatory claim of $110,000, as well as $165,000 on a finding of Statutory Conspiracy, another $350,000 in Punitive Damages on a ruling of Malicious Intent, bringing liability to $625,000. With interest, estimated at $268,000 added, North’s total liability was ruled at approximately $893,000.

Delayed civil cases

In other EDA civil court news, attorneys for seven more defendants – three companies and four people associated with those companies – filed a joint motion on January 3rd to have civil trials slated for March 13 continued to a date following Jennifer McDonald’s trial on criminal charges related to the EDA financial scandal. McDonald’s trial on over 30 criminal indictments is now scheduled for as many as five weeks in May-June in the Western District of Virginia federal court in Harrisonburg. Those defendants filing for a continuation were: TLC Settlements LLC and Tracy L. Bowers; Campbell Realty Inc., Jeanette M. Campbell and Walter L. Campbell; Service Title of Front Royal LLC and Victoria L. Williams.

The plaintiff EDA claims those companies involvement in some of McDonald’s real estate transactions utilizing EDA assets it says never received the necessary EDA board authorization led to the unjust enrichment of defendants as part of the conspiracy it alleges McDonald orchestrated to move EDA assets to her own benefit, as well as the benefit of other involved parties. EDA counsel filed a Memorandum in Opposition to those filings for delay in the civil trials of those defendants.

Several defense counsel pointed to McDonald’s past testimony in other related civil trial where the predominance of her testimony was to plead her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination with the criminal cases hanging over her. Should she be acquitted, more forthcoming testimony exonerating their clients might be expected, defense counsels reasoned.

In arguing against the continuance, EDA attorneys noted that the case against these defendants collectively seeking over $4.4-million in damages was filed on April 15, 2020, and all the defendants were served two days later, with the court setting the trial to open March 13, 2023, on June 18, 2020. Plaintiff EDA counsel viewed the motion to continue as a reaction to the EDA’s string of successful civil prosecutions referenced above.

As Royal Examiner as previously reported, including the no-fault out of court settlement with McDonald and the five civil trial verdicts against seven other defendants last July and October, on paper the EDA has been awarded approximately $23 million in liability or settlement findings. And as noted above, with the closing of information on the jointly agreed upon Rappawan/Vaught Jr. civil case dismissal, it remains unknown if that settlement may have raised the compensation which the EDA has achieved in or out of the courtroom into or past the $24-million range.

On February 2nd Judge Albertson removed these civil cases from the March Warren County Circuit Court docket and told attorneys to seek mutually available dates in June for those defendants cases to be heard. Of course, that assumes the oft-delayed and batted from one jurisdiction to another criminal cases against McDonald aren’t once again continued on a motion by her federal court-appointed attorney.

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