After all seven local judges recused themselves, a Portsmouth judge was appointed to preside over the case seeking to remove the City Council and mayor of Fredericksburg.
Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry L. Carrico named Judge James A. Cales Jr. to hear the case.
The action is being brought by Rappahannock Area Grassroots, a Fredericksburg and Stafford County organization that was formed a year ago after a zoning meeting on the Celebrate Virginia project. Hundreds of residents attended that meeting, most of whom voiced loud displeasure over Celebrate Virginia, a massive tourist, retail and commercial project planned for both sides of the Rappahannock.
At the end of the fiery meeting, however, the City Council approved the zoning change, igniting a backlash from residents.
The most disillusioned of those formed RAG, and in the spring the group submitted signed petitions accusing the city leaders of negligence, misuse of office and incompetence in the performance of their duties.
Despite the appointment of Carrico, the group's case is not going well. Last month, Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Richard E. Trodden, who has been assigned to handle the case, sent a note to RAG's leaders informing them that he thought their case was meritless. Trodden went on to say he would recommend the case be thrown out if it ever got to a courtroom.
Nevertheless, RAG members are pleased by the appointment Thursday.
"At least they've appointed somebody," spokesman Paul Lewis said. "It's a move in the right direction."
Meanwhile, officials in Fredericksburg say they are not worried about the case. "I think the commonwealth's attorney, who had reviewed all facts in the case and says he did not plan to pursue it if it did come to them . . . I think he pretty well captured the essence of the whole suit," Mayor William Greenup said. "We're confident the outcome will reflect the fact that we were just doing our job, and doing it in a responsible and appropriate manner."
In addition to Trodden's disinclination to bring charges, there is another hurdle before the case can be heard. Currently, elections officials are trying to determine whether the approximately 2,000 signatures on the petitions were legally witnessed, and if all signatories are residents of the city.
But as the group faces all these obstacles, RAG is shifting its focus. After a year of determined yet futile efforts to delay or stop Celebrate Virginia, the organization is redirecting its energy toward influencing this fall's elections in Fredericksburg and Stafford in the hopes of finding leaders who agree with their stances, Lewis said.