A federal judge yesterday ordered Arlington Sheriff James Gondles to pay $16,368.07 in attorneys fees and costs incurred by two Arlington residents who had challenged the sheriff over his now-abandoned policy of strip-searching anyone held in his jail.
Although he had dismissed the lawsuit they filed before it came to trial, District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. held that the two individuals who brought the action should be compensated for their efforts. "The primary purpose of the suit was to halt the strip search policy. Since that policy was halted by the Sheriff the results obtained were excellent," Bryan wrote.
The suit had been filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Laurie DeMier, a 32-year-old publications director, and Mark Weitzel, 23, a former computer specialist, and sought an order blocking the Arlington sheriff from making persons detailed on minor charges at the County Jail undergo strip searches.
DeMier had been arrested for allegedly playing her stereo too loud and Weitzel had been arrested for writing allegedly obscene statements on a check used to pay a traffic ticket.
The suit was dismissed in April after Gondles repealed the policy and the Virginia General Assembly passed a law prohibiting strip searches for certain misdemeanors.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Virginia ACLU President Leonard Rubenstein called the judge's award "a major victory," adding, "it's significant."
Neither Sheriff Gondles nor his attorney could be reached for comment and there was no word on whether the decision would be appealed.
Citing the "significant public attention" the case generated, Bryan hailed the lawsuit in his opinion saying that "thousands" has been stripped and searched at the jail during the six years the policy was in effect.