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Judge dismisses Meza appointment/’election’ challenge a second time

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On Wednesday morning, September 22, counsels for Plaintiff Paul L. Aldrich and Defendants the Town of Front Royal and recently resigned councilman Jacob L. Meza, revisited oral arguments on the defendants’ Demurrer motion to dismiss the plaintiff case as not having the legal standing to proceed.

And the following afternoon Warren County Circuit Court Judge William W. Sharp issued a written ruling, upholding the defense demurrer motion to dismiss for the second time. That despite an earlier Thursday morning request from plaintiff attorney David Downes for an additional week to file supporting arguments on the aspect of immediate or preliminary injunctions for relief sought by the plaintiff, raised the previous day. Downes explained in his written request that he had not anticipated the issue of immediate relief injunctions remaining part of the arguments Wednesday, due to evolving circumstances – most prominently Meza’s resignation, effective immediately at council’s July 26 meeting – and previous rulings on the issue upholding that portion of the defense demurrer motion.

On Thursday, Sept. 23, the Plaintiff team of Paul Aldrich, right, and his attorney David Downes, pictured here after a May hearing, got a ‘strike 2’ call in the legal challenge of Jacob Meza’s January appointment to town council. But with Meza since resigned will they take another swing? Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“As I write this, I am aware that Mr. Downes has filed a Motion seeking additional time to brief the de facto officer doctrine, raised by the Court. I see no reason to grant the motion. This appears to be a well-established common law doctrine, and I am confident it applies to this case. Further, the Court had previously raised this doctrine in ruling on the Demurrer to the original Complaint, yet the Plaintiff ignored that part of my opinion in his Amended Complaint,” Judge Sharp noted in denying the plaintiff counsel request for time to submit amended arguments.


Judge Sharpe quoted several past U.S. Supreme Court justices on the advised willingness judges should have to re-examine their own decisions in prefacing his own re-examination of his initial April 7 ruling in favor of the defense demurrer motion to dismiss.

“It is ‘the duty of every judge and every court to examine its own decisions … without fear, and to revise them without reluctance’,” Justice William O. Douglas quoting a judge of the New York Court of Appeals.

“Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late,” Justice Felix Frankfurter.

“I see no reason why I should be consciously wrong today because I was unconsciously wrong yesterday,” Justice Robert H. Jackson.

Of his decision to allow an amended plaintiff complaint to be filed and revisit his original ruling for the defense, Sharp wrote in late April, “Not a small part of my decision to enter the stay order, and give one last chance for oral argument, is my realization that I gave a very poor articulation of my reasons for my original decision, and I do not want to make that mistake again. It is therefore my intention to give a written explanation of my decision, whichever way it goes, in which my words are more carefully expressed.”

But in his continued analysis of arguments on the standing and substance of Plaintiff Aldrich’s filing, made as a town taxpaying citizen potentially impacted financially and otherwise by votes of an illegally appointed council member, Judge Sharp upheld his initial ruling in favor of the defense motion to dismiss. The judge addressed the changed circumstance of Meza’s resignation removing major points of relief sought by the plaintiff. “Gone is any issue of removing an ‘illegally’ installed councilman,” Sharp observed.

After reading a prepared statement into the record at the outset of the July 26 Town Council meeting announcing his immediate resignation, Jacob Meza, right, shakes hands with Mayor Holloway, whose council seat he was appointed to fill on Jan. 4, as he exits ‘stage right’.

Of the plaintiff claim of potential damage from Meza’s appointment, Sharp wrote: “Mr. Aldrich’s second amended complaint establishes that he is a citizen and taxpayer of the Town of Front Royal. The complaint alleges several decisions of the town council in which Mr. Meza participated, resulting in expenditures. However, the complaint does not allege that any of these decisions impacted any of Mr. Aldrich’s rights. Furthermore, the complaint does not allege that Mr. Meza’ s presence on the council had a causal relationship to any of these expenditures. While he participated in the votes, including moving or seconding motions, there is no claim that the actions would not have passed but for Meza’s participation.”

Noting his previous ruling that council actions could not be voided due to Meza’s participation in votes prior to a ruling on the legality of his seating, Judge Sharp made it fairly clear a second request for an amended complaint might be a futile gesture. “As Meza is no longer subject to removal from office and his prior actions are not voidable, I do not see any potential ongoing justiciable controversy, much less impacted right of the petitioner, that would warrant permitting another Amended Complaint,” Sharp concluded.

But has the question of whether the wording of the Town Charter dating to 1937, supports the reappointment by “election” of council members within a year of their leaving office been resolved? The judge dealt with his interpretation of that core question in his written decision:

“While Mr. Aldrich’s lack of standing disposes of the case, even if he had proper standing to challenge the appointment of Mr. Meza to the council, this claim would also fail under the law. The chief phrase of the Town Charter in dispute concerns whether membership on the town council is an ‘office under the jurisdiction of the council.’ There can be no dispute that the members of the council are officers of the town, as provided under §4 of the Charter. The question, rather, is whether such officers are considered to be under the jurisdiction of the council in the context of §47.

Chapter 47 of the Town Charter was the basis of the plaintiff’s challenge of the Meza appointment. It states: “No member of the council of the Town of Front Royal shall be appointed or elected to any office under the jurisdiction of the council while he is a member of the council, or for one year thereafter,” the relevant Section 47 passage reads. However, the court continued to side with defense counsel arguments that other Chapters of the Town Charter applied to council appointments to fill vacancies, specifically 6D and 9.

In her Demurrer filing for dismissal, defense counsel Heather Bardot pointed to Section 6D and related wording on filling council vacancies, such as the one created by Councilman Chris Holloway’s November 2020 election to mayor. “The council may fill any vacancy that occurs within the membership of council for the unexpired term, provided that such vacancy is taken within 45 days of the office becoming vacant,” Section 6D states. No reference to a one-year hiatus per appointments is made here, Bardot noted. Only the court’s authority to make the appointment were council to deadlock and be unable to fill the seat within the prescribed 45 days, is acknowledged.

Meza’s appointment was made January 4, 2021, four days after Holloway relinquished his council seat to become mayor and four days after Meza, who did not run for reelection after a controversial final year in office, vacated his seat. In 2020 Meza appeared to have alienated a portion of his base related to his Valley Health employment during the previous year. Meza did not express support for the “Birth Local” movement seeking to have Valley Health include a Maternity Unit in the new Warren Memorial Hospital. And after recusing himself from previous discussion of the new hospital funding due to his employment, the councilman chose to cast a deciding vote authorizing that EDA funding on the Town side.

In oral arguments on the original complaint, plaintiff counsel Downes suggested that Chapter 47 was intended to include council seats in the one-year prohibition, not only because council members are “under the jurisdiction” of their colleagues, but also to avoid the appearance or fact of partisan political cronyism in town politics. With the four member majority that appointed him by a 4-1 vote coming from the county Republican Committee, of which he is also a member, plaintiff counsel suggested one might at least infer the appearance of political cronyism in returning Meza to office so quickly after a voluntary choice to leave that office.

However, the judge continued to side with the defense stance that the Chapter 47 one-year prohibition applied only to appointed Town staff positions.

Town Hall and former Councilman Jacob Meza have prevailed in the second go-round of a legal challenge of Meza’s appointment to fill a council vacancy four days after he voluntarily left council.

“A comparison with the other named offices-especially those clearly under the Council’s jurisdiction-is instructive. The town treasurer, town manager, and town clerk are explicitly appointed by the council as a general rule, rather than as an exception to fill vacancies. The Council is authorized to exercise considerable oversight on them, with the ability to remove them from office and/or reassign their duties to other officers. By contrast, the council may only remove one of its own members in the case of repeated absences and exerts no other comparable oversight on its members. Furthermore, while the Charter provides that only the Council has authority to appoint the treasurer, clerk, and town manager, the Council shares its authority with the Circuit Court to appoint members to the Council when a vacancy arises. The Council can fairly be said to exercise general power over the clerk, treasurer, and town manager, but not over its own membership. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to find that membership in the Council is an office of the sort meant to be governed by §47,” Judge Sharp wrote of his stance on the matter at the heart of the citizen challenge of Meza’s appointment.

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Crime/Court

Missing juvenile located, Arkansas man arrested

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A 14-year-old Frederick County juvenile has been located safely and an Arkansas man is under arrest, at this time, facing various charges to include abduction. Rae-Anna Allen was last seen leaving her home in Winchester on Sunday, January 9th around 11:07am and was later reported missing by her family. Deputy J.A. Tanner and Investigator B.J. Hazelwood worked in tandem to attempt to locate Rae-Anna and began re-tracing her movements through digital forensics and with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies. Electronic footprints had shown a strong possibility that Rae-Anna was mobile in a vehicle and no longer in Frederick County, or the Commonwealth of Virginia, by early Sunday evening.

Law enforcement officials in Virginia and Tennessee began checking for video surveillance along the I-81 corridor, in areas where cellphone towers indicated Rae-Anna’s phone had recently been active. The hope was to spot the juvenile, and any person she may be with, or a vehicle she might be traveling in for a nationwide Amber Alert to be issued. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office had over 3,000 social media post shares of Rae-Anna’s disappearance that reached over 170,000 people including the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children who then shared that information to thousands more.

A possible location for Rae-Anna 1,100 miles from Winchester, in Arkansas, was obtained and is where the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office executed a search of a home overnight. Sheriff’s deputies found Rae-Anna in the company of 22-year-old Christopher Lane Stone of Hope, Arkansas and immediately took the male into custody. In Frederick County, Deputy Tanner obtained a warrant for abduction that was served on Stone by HCSO at 2:48 am. A follow-up investigation is being conducted by the Arkansas authorities and further charges, from that jurisdiction, are pending.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office wishes to acknowledge and thank: The Virginia State police BCI High Tech Division, the Blountville (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the Green County (TN) Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshalls Service, the National Center for Missing and Endangered Children and the Hempstead County (AR) Sheriff’s Office.


Sheriff Lenny Millholland is proud of the work of his people, and grateful for the support and assistance from the community in getting critical information on Rae-Anna out to so many people so quickly, resulting in locating and bringing this missing juvenile home safely.

Frederick County Sheriff’s Office seeks help in locating missing teen

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Crime/Court

New fencing up, Holloway’s ‘Dog Day’ in court ends with dismissal and payment of court costs

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On the 10 a.m. Wednesday morning (Jan. 12) docket in Warren County General District Court, a misdemeanor charge of dogs running at large against Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway was dismissed with payment of $104 in court costs. Holloway was not in court, but was represented by counsel John O’Neill. Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Lindsay LeHew represented the prosecution and Judge W. Dale Houff presided. The charge carries a maximum $200 fine.

Contacted outside the courtroom, O’Neill explained the resolution as typical of a defendant coming into compliance on this type of charge. He noted that Holloway’s construction of new fencing capable of holding his two large Bull Mastiffs on his Virginia Avenue property had been verified by involved Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy C.R. Clatterbuck and that the Commonwealth had been notified of the defendant’s effort to come into compliance in preventing future escapes of his two large canines.

Completed fencing preventing future dog escapes netted Chris Holloway a ‘dogs at large’ dismissal with court costs of $104. Royal Examiner Photo by Roger Bianchini

Holloway’s summons was issued on Nov. 28 in the wake of a complaint by Holloway neighbor Cheryl Langlais after she and her adult son were charged by the dogs along Virginia Avenue, one of which was said to have grabbed ahold of the son’s clothing in an aggressive manner. When multiple previous complaints involving the Holloway’s dogs were noted by law enforcement the summons was issued.


Holloway cited in November dog charge

Mayor built fence prior to obtaining zoning permit – is a pattern emerging?

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Shooting death at Frederick County residence under investigation

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At approximately 11:50 a.m. today (Dec. 30), a shooting was reported in the 100 block of Dick’s Hollow Road in Frederick County which has resulted in the death of one person.

  • The Sheriff’s Office can confirm that a male subject was shot by the homeowner during some type of verbal or physical altercation.
  • There were multiple subjects in the residence at the time with one subject fatally struck by gunfire.
  • Early indications are that there was only a single shot fired.
  • The subject who fired the weapon is in custody.
  • There is no ongoing threat to the community currently.
  • The identity of the victim is not being released pending notification of next of kin.

Details are limited at this time as this incident remains an active crime scene with law enforcement still processing evidence and speaking to witnesses and suspects. A more detailed press release will be forthcoming in the future.

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Crime/Court

Holloway cited in November dog charge

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After numerous complaints of his large mastiff dogs running loose in the neighborhood Mayor Chris Holloway has been issued a summons to appear in Warren County Circuit Court on Jan. 12, 2022, at 10 a.m.

According to a November 28 citation issued by Warren County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant C.R. Clatterbuck, Holloway was charged with a single count of dogs running at large, which carries a maximum $200 penalty.

Clatterbuck’s incident report states he arrived in the area of Academy Drive and Virginia Avenue for a dog bite call and “observed two very large brown dogs in the middle of Academy Drive.” He wrote that he “observed a male subject (identified as Holloway) attempting to contain the dogs, but the dogs were not listening.” Once the dogs were contained and Clatterbuck spoke to Holloway, the dog owner “explained that his dogs were nice and did not bite anyone,” the report states.

 

Holloway’s property is from the Virginia Avenue/Academy Drive intersection near where the incident occurred. Royal Examiner File Photo by Roger Bianchini


 

The citizen who made the initial call for assistance, Cheryl Langlais, reached out to Royal Examiner the evening of the incident. She relayed that she and her adult son had been walking in their neighborhood when the dogs approached the pair in a menacing manner. She stated that the dogs had frequently roamed the neighborhood and she felt that the situation was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Langlais said in a telephone interview that the dogs were “growling and barking before grabbing my son’s arm and leg.” It was at that point that Langlais called police, hastily telling the dispatcher that the dog had “bitten my child” before ending the call and attempting to help her son.

Langlais explained that though the dog grabbed her son, its teeth had latched on to loose portions of his clothing and not penetrated to his skin. Clatterbuck’s report confirmed that there was no bite injury and noted that the dogs had “come up to them and nudged them hard.”

Upon speaking to Holloway, Clatterbuck writes in the report that “Mr. Holloway showed me in the rear of his fence, he had green fence post driven into the ground to attempt to contain the dogs due to a short fence issue.” Holloway, according to the incident report, stated that he had been pricing fencing at a local store and planned to install a new fence.

Fence construction is underway on Dec. 5 at the rear of the property off Academy Drive near the R-MA entrance. Below, a sign warning ‘beware of the dog’ as well as ‘no trespassing’ signage was posted on Holloway’s property the morning after the incident. Courtesy Photos

Following that conversation, Clatterbuck wrote that he contacted dispatch and “spoke to other deputies who both advised me we have dealt with the same issue with same dogs multiple times.” He stated that Holloway was issued a summons for dog at large and given information regarding available fencing.

Langlais told Royal Examiner that she had tried to be neighborly regarding Holloway’s dogs and had tried to help “round them up” in the past when they had escaped from the waist-high fence.

“All of this could have been avoided with an act of civility on Holloway’s part, had he simply apologized or inquired if everyone was okay. He is not neighborly, not a good citizen, particularly as a leader.”

Royal Examiner reached out to Holloway for comment, but he did not respond.

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UPDATE: I-81 Rest Area Shooting Suspect Deceased; Investigation Remains Ongoing

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The investigation continues into a shooting that occurred at a Frederick County Rest Area along Interstate 81 Sunday (Dec. 26) morning.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., a man and woman became engaged in a domestic dispute at the southbound I-81 Rest Area at the 320-mile marker. When the dispute turned physical, several individuals who happened to be at the Rest Area tried to intervene for the woman’s safety. The 34-year-old male, Cesar Juarez Avila, then began firing at the woman and individuals who had intervened. The woman and three males were shot. Avila fled the Rest Area driving a Chevrolet Malibu.

Photos courtesy of Virginia State Police.

The female and two male victims were transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A third male victim was flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital for treatment of serious, but non-life-threatening, injuries.


State police, with the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, secured the Rest Area and began actively following up on leads concerning Avila’s whereabouts.

Shortly after 12 p.m. Sunday, a Frederick County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the Chevrolet Malibu traveling on Airport Road in Frederick County. When the sheriff’s deputy and state police pulled in behind the Chevrolet, it sped away and a short pursuit ensued. Law enforcement positioned their vehicles around the suspect vehicle and forced it to a stop. When the Malibu came to a stop, law enforcement witnessed shots being fired inside the Malibu. When troopers approached the vehicle, they located Avila in the driver’s seat suffering from a gunshot wound.

Avila was transported to Winchester Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries. Avila’s body was transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for autopsy and examination.

No law enforcement discharged their weapons during the course of the incident. A handgun was recovered from inside the Malibu.

The incident remains under investigation by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office.

The I-81 southbound Rest Area was reopened to the public at approximately 4 p.m. Sunday.

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Virginia State Police investigating deputy-involved shooting in Rappahannock County

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At the request of Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Compton, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, and Madison County Sheriff Erik Weaver, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Culpeper Field Office is investigating a pursuit and shooting that involved their personnel.

At 5:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 17, 2021), the Town of Culpeper Police Department issued a “Be On the Lookout” to regional law enforcement for Jeremy A. Yates, 21, of Culpeper, Va. An Emergency Custody Order (ECO) had been obtained for him and it was believed that he may be armed with a gun.

At approximately 9 p.m., a Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy observed a 2018 Chevrolet Colorado stopped in the roadway on Rt. 231 (Etlan Rd) in Madison County. As deputies from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office approached the Chevrolet, Yates sped away and a pursuit ensued. During the course of the pursuit, Yates began firing shots at passing vehicles. When the pursuit continued north on Rt. 231 into Rappahannock County, a Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Deputy became involved in the pursuit. It was during this time that Yates fired and struck a Rappahannock County Deputy’s vehicle multiple times.

As Yates was driving south on Rt. 707 (Slate Mills Rd) near the intersection of Rt. 644 (Reva Rd) – which is inside the Rappahannock County but right at the Culpeper County line – he began shooting at Culpeper County Sheriff’s Deputies who were stopped in the roadway and facing north on Slate Mills Road. The Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office personnel returned fire. The Chevrolet Colorado then ran off the left side of the road, collided with an embankment, and overturned.


Deputies attempted to render first aid, but Yates died at the scene. His remains were transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas for examination and autopsy.

Two handguns were recovered from the Chevrolet Colorado.

No deputies or other persons were injured during the incident. No citizens have reported their vehicles being struck by bullets from when Yates was firing at other vehicles.

The investigation remains ongoing at this time.

Anyone with additional information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 540-829-7400 or questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

 

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