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.
“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.
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.
“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.
Town man charged with 20 felony counts of child pornography possession after lengthy investigation
Following an eight-month investigation, Front Royal Police officers have arrested a town man for possession of child pornography.
Richard E. Jones, 41, of Front Royal, was arrested on Thursday, June 30, and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail, where he was charged with 20 felony counts of Possession of Child Pornography.
A Friday media release from Police Chief Kahle Magalis states that detectives, on Oct. 12, 2021, executed a search warrant on an Accomac Drive home, where “several electronic devices were located and seized for evidentiary purposes.” The release says, “Over 400 images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) were extracted from the seized electronics.”
Jones went before the magistrate and was ordered to be held without bond. He has an initial court date for the listed offenses on July 28, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
FRPD Detective T. A. Smith is the lead investigator in the case. Anyone with further information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective Smith at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
The Front Royal Police Department is an active member of the Northern Virginia/DC Metro (NOVA/DC) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Virginia State Police. Anyone with information regarding the solicitation or exploitation of a minor is encouraged to contact the Front Royal Police Department.
Front Royal Police investigating an unattended death in Town
The Front Royal Police Department is investigating an unattended death after responding to a Thursday night, June 30 call around 10:30 p.m.
Upon arriving at First Bank, at 1729 North Shenandoah Avenue, officers located a deceased white male, 41, in the grassy area between First Bank and United Bank parking lots. The Front Royal man, whom the FRPD has not identified, appeared to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A media release from FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis said the victim was not affiliated with the bank and is believed to have walked there from a nearby hotel. This incident is under investigation with assistance from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The release states, “Due to the pending nature of this ongoing investigation and respect for his family, no further details can be provided at this time.”
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective T. A. Smith at (540) 636-2208 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website
Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2021, titled Crime in Virginia, is now available online at the Virginia State Police website on the VSP CJIS Data Analysis & Reporting Team page. Crime in Virginia continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by reporting agency.
Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, the violent crime rate increased in 2021 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) from 183.0 in 2020. There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1% increase.
The following 2021 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:
- The number of reported homicides increased from 528 to 562 (6.4%). The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate increased from 6.15 in 2020 to 6.49 in 2021 (per 100,000 population). Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 38.6% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 55.7% of known offenders were men between 18 and 34. Nearly half (47.5%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
- Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 3.8% compared to 2020. During 2021, there were 11,638 motor vehicles reported stolen in 11,249 offenses. In 2021, 7,589 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2021). Of all motor vehicles stolen, 35.4% were taken from the residence/home. The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $131,738,135.
- Drug arrests decreased by nearly half (46.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in arrestees under age 25 (67.6%). The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (67%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020 and Code of Virginia §18.2-250.1 being repealed July 1, 2021.
- Burglary decreased by 8.3% between 2020 and 2021. In fact, burglaries and attempted burglaries have steadily declined over the past ten years. In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population.
- Fraud offenses increased 8.4% compared to 2020. Nearly 80% of victims (79.9%) were individuals while 11.3% were businesses. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of fraud victims were over the age 65.
- Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 82.1% of homicides and 48.6% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (38.7%) of aggravated assault cases.
- There were 123 hate crime offenses, involving 106 victims, reported in 2021. This represents a 35.3% decrease compared to 2020. Most hate crimes (69.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (19.0%, 8.7%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crimes, 75.6% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.
Per state mandate, the Department of Virginia State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division via a secured internet system. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.
Trio of Front Royal women plead guilty to oxycodone distribution ring
A Front Royal woman pleaded guilty Monday to being the “ringleader” of a decade-long oxycodone distribution network, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Candie Marie Calix, 40, worked as an office manager for an unnamed Arlington, VA doctor, according to court records that identify the doctor as “Doctor-1.”
Kendall Sovereign, 56, and Jessica Talbott, 35, both of Front Royal, also pleaded guilty to being co-conspirators in the drug ring.
Between 2012 and 2022, court records state that the doctor prescribed Calix nearly 40,000 oxycodone 30-mg pills and over 9,000 oxycodone 15-mg pills. The doctor also prescribed similar quantities of oxycodone 30-mg and 15-mg pills to Calix’s relatives, including her mother, grandparents, great-grandmother, husband, and brother.
Court records indicate that Calix distributed or directed others to distribute most of the pills prescribed to Calix and her family members by “Doctor-1.”
The U.S. attorney’s office said that Calix “functioned as the gatekeeper” to the doctor and recruited people she knew from the Front Royal area to be “patients” of the doctor and obtain large quantities of oxycodone.
These “patients,” officials say, “typically kicked back the oxycodone 30-mg pills they were prescribed to Calix to redistribute and kept the oxycodone 15-mg pills for their own use.”
“Calix and her co-conspirators used coded language to refer to the pills they distributed, for example, referring to oxycodone 30-mg pills as ‘tickets,’ ‘blueberries,’ or ‘muffins,’” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a media release.
Court documents show that co-conspirators “typically sold oxycodone 30-mg pills at a cost of $25 per pill, and over the course of the conspiracy, generated at least $5,000 per month in profits.”
Calix is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 28 and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, though actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, the release states. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Sovereign and Talbott are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept 21.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh.
New information revealed during presentation of plea agreement in William Luckey sexual solicitation of a minor case
Citing the agreement of the family of the minor victim, early Friday afternoon, June 24, in Warren County Circuit Court the prosecution and defense submitted a plea agreement with amended charges in the sexual solicitation and indecent liberties against a minor case against former Christendom College professor William Raymond Luckey. After hearing information from both sides in support of the amended complaint and plea agreement, including responses by the 73-year-old defendant to a series of questions from the bench, Judge William Sharp accepted the agreement as presented.
As a result, Luckey plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of sexual battery of a minor and attempted sexual battery of a minor. Judge Sharpe then sentenced Luckey to a total of 24 months in jail, 12 months on each count, with all that time suspended minus the 18 days he spent in RSW Regional Jail in the wake of his June 25, 2021 arrest, three days after the incident occurred. He was released on a $50,000 bond after a second bond hearing at the Circuit Court level on July 12, 2021. He was initially denied bond following a hearing in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Luckey was initially charged at the felony level with Solicitation of Prostitution from a minor less than age 16” and two charges of “Indecent liberties … of a child less than 15”.
Luckey was apologetic for the incident, telling the court, “I am absolutely sorry for what happened,” adding specific apologies to the victim and family and to his wife, the latter of whom he observed had been “put through hell” as a consequence of the incident. “I don’t know what got into me,” Luckey added of the offer of $10 to the under 15 years of age victim to “see” and “pat their hiney” as described in the arrest warrant.
A hint of “what got into” the defendant on June 22, 2021, was offered by defense counsel Thaddeus Furlong during his comments in support of the plea agreement. Furlong told the court that among the myriad health problems that his client battles cited during previous hearings, including consequences of past back and brain injuries, cardiac problems, and high blood pressure, Luckey was battling early signs of dementia at the time of the incident. He added that Luckey had undergone brain surgery in the intervening year since the incident occurred.
As he has at previous hearings in recent months, Luckey appeared frail, utilizing a walker to move cautiously about. However, his answers to the court’s questions were concise and responsive.
Outside the courthouse following resolution of the case, Furlong told Royal Examiner, “We are glad it’s over. Mr. Luckey suffers from progressive dementia – he doesn’t remember what happened or why. He is very, very sorry.”
In addition to the two years of suspended time, Luckey will be required to register with the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and serve 24 months probation.
In prefacing his acceptance of the plea agreement, Judge Sharp noted that Luckey had been facing “very serious felony charges” originally with “evidence in support” of conviction. However, he noted that an out-of-court resolution in such cases was often preferred by both sides to avoid the necessity of a minor child having to testify, with the potentially damaging effects rippling through the victim into their family.
Citing the support of the victim’s family for the plea agreement, Judge Sharp said, “I find this a reasonable and proper disposition of the case,” in accepting Luckey’s two guilty pleas to the amended, lesser charges.
That a plea agreement was in the offing had been hinted at when both a May 16 hearing at which a trial date was expected to be set was continued, and that hearing was again continued on June 3.
“I think we are making progress toward resolving this case,” the Stafford-based Furlong commented on May 16, adding on June 3, “We’re very close.”
And now as of June 24, all involved can move on with the rest of their lives.