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The State of NoVa
Posted at 01:40 PM ET, 02/02/2012

Loudoun supervisors again urge settlement in FOIA legal battle


This photo, taken by freelance reporter Beverly Bradford, has spiraled into a costly lawsuit and a battle between the Loudoun County Board of Equalization and the county Board of Supervisors. (Beverly Bradford)

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors once again made its message clear at a board meeting Wednesday: It wants the ongoing legal matter between freelance journalist Beverly Bradford and the Loudoun County Board of Equalization to come to an end.

After emerging from a closed session, the supervisors unanimously voted to direct the county administrator and outside counsel to settle the court case, which was sparked by a confrontation between Bradford, a freelance reporter for AOL Patch, and Board of Equalization Chairman J. Scott Littner at a tax appeal hearing last summer.

The vote, however, does not actually carry the authority to direct the BOE's outside attorney, John Flannery, to seek settlement, according to county staff. The five-members of the BOE are appointed by the Loudoun County Circuit Court, not the Board of Supervisors — a fact that the supervisors hoped to change with a bill, sponsored by State Del Joe May (R), that would shift that authority to the board. The bill was rejected by a House of Delegates subcommittee Wednesday.

Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large), who proposed the motion at Wednesday’s meeting, acknowledged that the vote may not stop payment by the Board of Supervisors, as the court case is still in progress. A final day of testimony is scheduled for Feb. 29 in Loudoun General District Court.

“We can, as a county, be on the hook for Ms. Bradford’s attorney fees, should they win the court case,” York said. “Quite frankly, while I don’t want to pay Ms. Bradford’s attorney fees, I hope she does win in court, because what the BOE did was simply wrong.”

Bradford, who was escorted from the June 28 meeting by a sheriff’s deputy after she took a picture of the proceedings, filed a FOIA complaint against the BOE that has since escalated into a lawsuit costing the county more than $60,000. The Board of Supervisors urged the BOE to settle the matter with a simple apology and refused the BOE's requests for the Board of Supervisors to foot the bill; the BOE then sued the Board of Supervisors, and the Board of Supervisors has spent an additional $28,000 in legal fees defending its case in Loudoun Circuit Court.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who had previously cast the lone vote against denying the BOE's requests, defended the principle behind his earlier opposition but said he was dismayed by the BOE's handling of the matter.

“As long as they’re having public meetings, as long as they’re operating in a public fashion, and as long as they are reporting back to the Board of Supervisors, they are entitled to protection by our county attorney at our direction and with our encouragement,” Delgaudio said. “We give them the benefit of the doubt. Rare in the history of our county has there been an abuse of that, as in this case.”

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said he was “absolutely appalled” by the BOE's refusal to resolve the matter out of court.

“This action should never have gotten this far,” he said. “If this were done in corporate America, folks would have been fired and showed the door. A simple apology could have saved the taxpayers many, many, many, many tens of thousands of dollars.”

By  |  01:40 PM ET, 02/02/2012

 
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