In a peculiar brand of "courthouse politics," Loudoun County's supervisers lined up in front of a deputy sheriff early this week and were served with an order to appear in court.
The order pits the county's Circuit Court judges and commonwealth's attorney against the supervisors and the county attorney in a battle over the supervisors' decision to abandon a $1.9 million program to renovate court facilities in Leesburg.
Judges Rayner V. Snead and Carleten Penn are the odds-on favorites in the case, which will be held in their courtroom before a fellow Circuit Court judge. "I'll have to be some kind of Houdini to win this case," said Stephen P. Robin, the county attorney, said.
Snead and Pen n acted under an unusual provision of Virginia law that allows courts to order local governments to provide adequate court facilities.
Snead and Penn acted under an unthat "not less than six years prior hereto the Board of Supervisors of said county was informed by the court that the court faclities were insufficlent."
The supervisors agree that the facilities, which have not had major improvement or expansion in about 20 years, are inadequate.
After completing a new office building for themselves and the county staff last year, the supervisors drew up plans to renovate a building dating from 1816 and other vacated offices for the courts.
Last spring, they asked the voters to approve $1.9 million in bonds to finance the project. The voters said no.
So this fall, the supervisors sent the bond issue bake to referendum. Again the voters rejected it.
That, said Board Chairman William C.Crossman, left the Board "between a rock and a hard place." The voters clearly did not want money spent for the courts, and the Board on Nov. 10 passed a resolution to proceed no further on court renovation.
"Politically, we had nothing else to do," said Crossman.
That left the ball in the judges' court. It took them eight days to take the supervisors to court over the renovation.
The chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court appointed Roanoke Circuit Court Judge Ernest W. Ballow to hear the case, now set for Jan. 11, and Ballou directed Robin and Commonwealth's Attorney Donald W. Devine, who will represent Snead and Penn, to prepare for a pretrial conference, probably in December.
The supervisors, having admitted officially and unofficially the need for the renovation, probably will have to argue that the law the judges acted under is unconstitutional and that the will of the people as expressed in the vote should be paramount, according to county officials.
While searching for a way to defend their position, the supervisors also are searching for ways to fiance the renovation if they lose. Officials estimate the expense would add about 10 cents to the county property tax rate of $1.14per $100 of assessed value in each of the next two years.
Worrying over the financial impact of an advrse ruling, Supervisor Frank Raflo said, "We bit the bullet and the gunpowder is all over our face."
But, privately, some of the supervisors see themselves in a "no lose" situation instead of a "no win" spot.
Had they voted money for the courts, they would have faced certain political attack as big spenders. But who can blame them for carrying out a court order, they said.