Embattled Charlottesville City Councilor, Wes Bellamy, is seeking $7,588.35 in taxpayer funds for his attorney, Pam Starsia, in reimbursement of her fees to defend Bellamy against a petition to remove him from public office.
The petition, filed by blogger, Jason Kessler, sought court intervention to oust Bellamy from his position on Charlottesville City Council for “civil rights violations, corruption and other misuse of office.”
Kessler’s petition ultimately was dismissed by the courts.
Bellamy’s Motion for Payment of Attorney Fees and Costs cites Virginia Code § 24.2-238, which gives courts discretion in ordering such reimbursement:
§ 24.2-238. Costs.
A. If a judicial proceeding under this article is dismissed in favor of the respondent, the court in its discretion may require the state agency or political subdivision which the respondent serves to pay court costs or reasonable attorney fees, or both, for the respondent.
B. No person who signs a petition for the removal of an official pursuant to § 24.2-233 or who circulates such a petition (i) shall be liable for any costs associated with removal proceedings conducted pursuant to the petition, including attorney fees incurred by any other party or court costs, or (ii) shall have sanctions imposed against him pursuant to § 8.01-271.1.
1975, cc. 515, 595, § 24.1-79.10; 1993, c. 641; 2009, cc. 868, 876.
The Motion references “strong public policy and equitable reasons for the Court to exercise its discretion to require the City of Charlottesville to pay” Bellamy’s “reasonable attorney fees.” Stated reasons include:
The fee provision of §24.2-238 is intended to encourage qualified individuals to serve in public office, and to prevent the intimidation and coercion of public officials through threat of unsubstantiated removal proceedings and the expense of defending against such proceedings, particularly in cases where the removal proceedings appear to be politically and/or personally motivated, and lack evidence to supp01t the claim for removal from office, as in this case;
The general public has a strong interest in ensuring that incumbent officials are able to fulfill the duties of public office without intimidation, coercion, or distraction of unsubstantiated removal proceedings, and in encouraging other qualified candidates to seek public office in the future;
Starsia’s bill includes 29.5 hours of her time at a rate of $250 per hour, or $7375. In addition, $200 compensation is sought for “legal assistant” “Sarah M. Tansey” [sic], at a rate of $100 per hour. Tansey presently is facing her own legal issues.
The Motion for Payment of Attorney Fees and Costs is scheduled to be heard in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Tuesday, June 6 at 3:00 PM.