Goff replies he’s authorized to defend Board of Supervisors
A motion filed in Rappahannock County Circuit Court Monday asks that Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff be named as a party to a suit alleging violations of the state’s Conflict of Interest Act (COIA).
Amissville resident Tom Woolman filed a petition for declaratory judgement last October, charging Hampton district supervisor John Lesinski with repeatedly violating Virginia’s COI regulations.
Woolman’s attorney David Konick filed an amended petition Monday including Goff in the allegations.
Both petitions ask for a declaratory judgement and the court’s enforcement of the state Conflicts of Interest Act (COIA), and request the appointment of a special prosecutor or grand jury.
In a Tuesday interview, Goff declined to speculate why Konick was still pushing for him to step down, considering that after an April 9 hearing Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker ruled against Woolman’s request for a special prosecutor.
Goff also denied that he has a personal interest in transactions described in the suit, and that he is authorized by statute to defend the BOS and its members.
The motion and amended petition came just days after Goff, in a formal memorandum to Konick, refused to appoint a special prosecutor “for the purpose of criminally prosecuting Lesinski” for the alleged COIA violations.
Among the reasons Goff stated in the memo for his refusal was that “the bulk of the allegations of violations occurred more than a year ago. As such, the statute of limitations has run out.”
The four counts in the October petition outline specific instances when Lesinski — as a member and chairman of the Rappahannock County School Board before being elected to the supervisor post in 2015 — allegedly violated COIA by either not disqualifying himself from certain transactions or failing to disclose his economic interests in the transactions, as required by law.
The petition asks for Lesinski’s removal from office. The amended petition similarly implies that Goff, too, “could be liable for removal from office under the Conflicts Act.”
Woolman’s amended petition claims that Goff “has an imputed personal interest in the same transactions by virtue of his providing legal services to Lesinski [in two other pending lawsuits against the Board of Supervisors] and is either legally barred and/or unwilling to perform his duty as Attorney for the Commonwealth for Rappahannock County to enforce the Conflicts Act as it pertains to Lesinski.”
In emails between Goff and Konick dated April 2, and in letters dated April 24 and 25, Konick urges Goff to step aside in representing Lesinski, because of two separate suits brought against the Board of Supervisors by Marian Bragg.
Bragg, a Gid Brown Hollow llama farmer, alleges in both suits (known informally as “Bragg 1” and “Bragg 2”) that the BOS violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act on several occasions. Konick is representing Bragg in both actions.
“Frankly,’ Konick writes in one of the April emails, “I think you are conflicted out of rendering an opinion in [the Woolman] case since you personally represent Mr. Lesinski in an individual capacity in at least two pending matters in which he is a respondent.”
Meanwhile, the two Bragg cases are working their way through the courts.
The original petition in Bragg 1 filed in September 2016, alleged that the board and four of its five individual members violated FOIA during the closed portion of several supervisor meetings last summer and fall by improperly discussing topics that were not exempt from the FOIA law.
According to meeting minutes, the reason for the closed-door sessions was to discuss hiring a replacement for County Attorney Peter Luke. Certain personnel discussions are considered sensitive and are exempt under FOIA, meaning they can be held outside the public’s view.
Alfred D. Swersky, a substitute judge in Rappahannock’s 20th Judicial Circuit, stated in a March 15, 2017, opinion letter that he denied the petition, finding that certain procedural aspects of the complaint had not been met. In an April 11 letter — in response to a Motion to Reconsider, filed by Konick — he reaffirmed his decision.
On April 19, Konick presented arguments in Bragg 1 before the Virginia Supreme Court to ask that the court reverse Swersky’s opinion and remand the case back to the Trial Court for further proceedings. A ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court is expected this summer.