A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday ordered Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio to appear in court next week for a hearing into whether he should be removed from office after a group of Sterling residents filed a petition alleging that he was not fit to represent their district.
Delgaudio (R-Sterling), one of the region’s most controversial politicians in part for his denunciation of gays as “perverts” and “freaks,” was the subject of a criminal investigation last year sparked when a former aide said he used county resources and staff to benefit his political campaign.
Judge Burke F. McCahill ordered the hearing shortly after the grass-roots group, Sterling Deserves Better, submitted the petition requesting Delgaudio’s removal. It alleges “neglect of duty” and “misuse of office.”
Delgaudio’s attorney, Charles King, said the allegations outlined in the petition are “a long reach.”
“Although I welcome the opportunity to try Supervisor Delgaudio’s case, I don’t believe the petition will get very far,” King said. “Many of the allegations involve subjective questions of temperament best decided by the voters of Sterling, not a Circuit Court judge.”
One of Delgaudio’s former aides, Donna Mateer, told The Washington Post in the fall of 2012 that she was instructed to spend most of her work time early that year scheduling fundraising meetings for Delgaudio. Mateer collected extensive records from Delgaudio’s office, including fundraising spreadsheets and e-mail correspondence related to her accusations, which were reviewed as part of the investigation.
The four-term supervisor was not indicted as a result of the investigation, but a special grand jury made the unusual decision to issue a detailed report in June that outlined a number of alleged problems with Delgaudio’s conduct. Those concerns included the potential misuse of county staff and resources; campaign funds that might have gone unreported; a disregard for constituent services; a hostile work environment; and blurred lines between his county office and his conservative nonprofit group, Public Advocate of the United States, which campaigns against gay rights and has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Loudoun supervisors voted to formally censure Delgaudio in July, and his district budget was placed under the control of the full Board of Supervisors. He was also removed from his place on county, local and regional committees — although his seat on the county Transportation and Land Use Committee was restored by the board this month.
Delgaudio, who has consistently denied wrongdoing and first tried to fight the board’s censure in court, apologized in September for the “embarrassment” the investigation had caused and said he would accept the board’s punishment.
Sterling Deserves Better announced the filing of the petition at a news conference in the board room of the Loudoun County Government Center on Tuesday morning, where a large poster showed a mounted photograph of Delgaudio in conversation with recently indicted former governor Robert F. McDonnell, along with the words “Corruption Hurts Virginia.”
The petition, which echoes many of the grand jury report’s findings and includes an affidavit from Mateer, refers to a Virginia statute that allows for the removal of an elected official from office for reasons including “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties” if those actions have “a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
Leesburg lawyer John Flannery, who filed the motion Monday on behalf of the petitioners, said the action was supported by “a history that makes this a credible request of the court to remove a public official. The background, everybody knows it. The only thing that’s different is the remedy today.”
Flannery noted that Loudoun residents took similar action in 1997, when 283 voters filed a petition requesting the removal of then-Supervisor Steven D. Whitener, who had been accused of misconduct and threatening female colleagues. Whitener, like Delgaudio, had been sanctioned by the board. The petition against Whitener was dismissed in court.
John Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties, said such petitions are “a very infrequent occurrence” in the commonwealth. “I’ve been in county government for 40 years and with the association for 23, and I can only recall a handful of incidents,” he said.
Al Nevarez, an organizer and spokesman for Sterling Deserves Better, said the petition was signed by 686 Sterling voters who said they did not want Delgaudio to represent them on the Board of Supervisors. The number exceeds the minimum 557 signatures required for the court to consider the motion — representing 10 percent of the voters who participated in the 2011 election in Sterling.
Nevarez said the Sterling group was pleased that its petition would be brought before the court.
“From looking at cases over the last 30 years, we know that it’s extremely rare for a court to issue a rule like this, but we were extremely confident that the case that we had was superior to those that we had studied,” he said.
According to the rule issued Tuesday by the Circuit Court, Delgaudio is ordered to appear in court at 4 p.m. Feb. 5.