In an order handed down this week, Rappahannock County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker has ruled against an Amissville resident who alleged, among other charges, that Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski violated the state’s Conflict of Interests Act (COIA).
Tom Woolman contended that Lesinski, in his official capacities as a former Rappahannock County School Board chairman and now as a Hampton district supervisor violated COIA either by not disqualifying himself from certain transactions or failing to disclose his economic interests in those transactions, as required by law.
But Judge Parker, in his order dated April 9, found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the supervisor — now or during the period that he was a member of the school board.
“It’s a solid win, a solid victory for our arguments,” Lesinski reacted yesterday (Wednesday) as this newspaper was going to press. “The judge didn’t see any merit in the pleadings and agreed with my counsel that charges didn’t rise to the level of meriting a trial.”
Reached yesterday, Woolman’s attorney, David Konick, stated: “The main thrust of the Judge’s ruling appears to be that the primary responsibility for enforcing the Conflicts Act is on the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the General Assembly did not intend for private citizens to have an independent right to do so.
“Effectively, that would leave no one to enforce this important law in localities where the Commonwealth’s Attorney also serves as County Attorney and may have an ethical conflict of interest that precludes him (or her) from fulfilling this important duty.”
Judge Parker wrote that “demurrers should be sustained to all [six] counts” brought by Woolman, and he gave Konick 21 days to appeal the order, if the client through his attorney so chooses.
In his demurrer [in some cases under Virginia law the equivalent of a motion to dismiss] of counts one through four, the judge pointed out that Lesinski, while serving on the school board through January 2015, “was also employed as a Realtor who happened to have a real estate listing for a restaurant known as the Blue Rock Inn, which was located adjacent to the Rappahannock County High School. During this period the School Board entered into discussions with a company looking to place a wireless telephone antenna on the High School site.
“It is asserted by [Woolman] that the ‘improved reliability of the cell service’ that would presumably have resulted from the installation of the cell tower would have ‘enhanced the value of the Blue Rock Inn.’ The lease was not in fact consummated although [Lesinski] voted for it, and no sale was effected of the Inn.”
In Count II, the judge addressed a sequence of events that have occurred while Lesinski has been a member of the Board of Supervisors [BOS].
“From August through October of 2017, a ‘political supporter’ of [Lesinski] sought to persuade the BOS to adopt a resolution in favor of receiving funds from the State to be utilized for the construction of ‘multi-use trails’ in the County to attract tourism.
“The proposed trails would have their terminus at Rappahannock High School, again in relatively close proximity to the Blue Rock Inn. There is nothing in the pleading suggesting any cost to the County. It is alleged that this resolution was intended to financially benefit [Lesinski], but no sale or facts specifically describing this benefit were alleged,” the judge ruled.
Count III brought by Woolman addressed a business transaction involving the storage of farm inventory/equipment on County property for a real estate associate of Lesinski, but as “the Respondent [Lesinski] recused himself from the executive session discussion,” the judge noted.
In Count IV, it was pointed out, the BOS, including Lesinski, “voted in favor of a special appropriation of $100,000 for a litigation defense fund, to pay the legal and court costs/fees of the Respondent incurred in defending a Freedom of Information Act proceeding in which he was a defendant.”
But the judge, in his declaratory judgement, cited Virginia Code “central to this case” that found no violation.
Judge Parker also dismissed counts five and six, the former seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor or else, through the court, the convening of a special grand jury, as Woolman “asserts that the acts of [Lesinski] are criminal and that the Commonwealth’s Attorney [Art Goff] has been defending the Respondent up to now and hence he is conflicted out of prosecuting Lesinski.”
In the sixth count, Woolman asked to be reimbursed for Konick’s representation, but the judge made it clear that “Virginia follows the ‘American Rule’ which provides that each litigant pays his or her own attorney’s fees . . .”
Lesinski has been represented by lawyer Robert Mitchell, who in the case’s preliminary hearing on March 15 engaged in heated debate with Konick surrounding the allegations against Lesinski. Numerous times Judge Parker interrupted the exchange to test the attorneys’ arguments.
One issue had involved standing, or the right to bring a suit. Standing is the doctrine that a prospective plaintiff — Woolman, in this case — can show that he has suffered some particular wrong by the actions of the defendant, meaning Lesinski.
The judge, given his order this week, apparently didn’t believe so.
— Patty Hardee contributed to this report