A Roanoke judge declared Loudoun County's court facilities inadequate yesterday, a ruling that is likely to send a $1.6 million court renovation project back to the voters for a third time.
The decision by Circuit Court Judge Ernest Ballou came in an unusual proceeding in which the County Board of Supervisors meeting room was turned into a court, the judge took over the supervisors' raised platform and the eight supervisors moved to the spectators' level as defendants.
The supervisors' names were stripped from the signs in front of their seats and at one point a bailiff warned one of them to stop reading a newspaper in the makeshift courtroom.
The case for 20th Judicial Circuit Judges Carleton Penn and Rayner V. Snead, who had directed the Board to show cause why it should not be ordered to improve court facilities, was argued by Commonwealth's Attorney Donald W. Devine, while County Attorney Stephen Robin, a former Devine assistant, represented the Board.
Devine and Robin ate lunch together and Ballou remarked on the tour of court facilities that he and Penn graduated in the same high school class.
The supervisors were in the awkward position of having admitted freely through a series of statements, plans and bond referendums that the court facilities were "insecure, out of repair or otherwise insufficient."
That is the requirement under Virginia law that allows an outside judge - chosen by the State Supreme Court - to order facilities brought up to standard. A handful of such cases have been heard in the state in recent years.
Architect Thomas A. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] drafted plans for a court renovation that would cost $12.2 million, with $100,000 for furnishings and equipments and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] more to revamp the Commonwealth's Attorney Office.
Referendum to finance the work filled last June and in November, and when the Board said it would take no further action, Judges Penn and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] issued their show cause order.
Board members said yesterday that they now favor taking the issue back to the voters this spring for a decision on financing $1.6 million of the work with bonds. The alternative would be to pay for the construction with an increase of seven cents per $100 assessed value in the county real estate tax next year.
Witnessess yesterday told of people "packed like sardines" outside court rooms, mixing of jurors and witnesses, weddings in crowded record rooms and employees freezing in winter and roasting in summer in a hodge-podge of buildings dating as far back as 1840.
When County Board Chairman George H. Yeager argued that "it is not a good law which permits a nonelected judge to overrule the carefully considered decision of eight elected local legislators," Ballou responded, "you understand, Mr. Yeager that whether it is a good law or a bad law it is on the books."
Ballou asked several supervisors and county officials whether the court facilities were now "insurecure, out of repair or otherwise insufficient," and in every instance the witnesses admitted they were.
Finally, after a day-long hearing, Ballou said, "Judges abhor injunctions, mandatory orders and that sort of thing . . . I'm sorry to be here on such an occasion. It's obvious that the facilities are out of repair, insecure and insufficient.
"I'm going to have to order that the facilies be made adequate," he said. "I'm responsible for the tax increase, not you all."
The Board told the judge that it would comply with his order and said it would proceed as quickly as possible to carry out the renovation plans that have already been developed. County officials said they hoped they could begin construction in July and complete the major part of the work by early 1980.