Decision delay: Dumler awaits ruling on petition
At least 470 of his constituents want him gone, but embattled Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler hangs on– and he has at least one more week to serve the Scottsville District before Judge Cheryl Higgins rules on a petition to remove him from office.
"For the board to work, it requires trust, and they don't have it in Mr. Dumler's case," said special prosecutor Mike Doucette in his closing argument, wrapping up a four-hour trial on Monday, May 20 that brought at least three of Dumler's fellow supervisors to the stand along with several unsatisfied Dumler constituents.
"I was really appalled, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," testified supervisor Ken Boyd of his feelings about his fellow board member immediately following Dumler's October arrest on charges of forcible sodomy. Boyd noted that after Dumler pleaded guilty in January to a reduced charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, "I lost respect for him."
Supervisor Duane Snow described his inspiration for writing an open letter asking Dumler to step down after the conviction, explaining that staying silent while Dumler remained on the board seemed "the wrong message to send to our youth."
Back in early February, soon after Dumler accepted the plea that reduced the charge against him to sexual battery, the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to censure him. Another motion urging Dumler to resign passed 3-2. (Dumler abstained from both votes.) While both motions passed, they carried no legal significance, as Virginia allows the ouster of elected officials only for felony convictions, hate crimes, drug trafficking, or– as Dumler's detractors assert– for "neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence."
At the time of the trial, prosecutor Doucette told the court, a petition circulated by constituent Earl Smith garnered 470 certified signatures of Scottsville district residents– nearly 100 more than the 372 required to bring the case to court. The recall petition– with few precedents in Virginia– alleges several ways in which the now 28-year-old Dumler has neglected or become unable to perform his duties, including his March resignation from all committees, commissions, and boards. (Dumler testified he'd taken those steps only after other board members informed him that he was heading for removal by their official votes.)
Also explored by the prosecution: Dumler's decision to abstain from a vote on a police firing range that might impact residents of his district. While Doucette sought to paint the abstention as evidence of Dumler's inability to serve, Dumler said he merely sought to avoid "any appearance of impropriety" by avoiding a vote pertaining to law enforcement during the pendancy of his legal battle.
Doucette brought several of Dumler's constituents to the stand to further paint a portrait of a poorly performing supervisor.
"I contacted him on the only phone number I had," said Jackie Aikins, a three-decade Scottsville district resident who said she'd left several messages for Dumler prior to his arrest hoping to discuss concerns about various issues including trash can placement in the Scottsville area, and that she'd left near daily messages for him after his arrest.
"He has never returned one of my phone calls," Aikins testified.
Dumler's attorney, Jessica Phillips, pointed out that the telephone number Aikins attested to calling was different by one digit from the number printed on Dumler's mailings. She also suggested the content of some of Aikins' post-arrest messages might have played a role in the supervisor's reluctance to place return calls.
"Did you say his soul was damned?" asked the defense.
"I don't think so,"Aikins replied, "because I don't think anyone's soul is damned if they repent."
"Did you call him a violent sexual predator?"
"Probably," answered Aikins, "because I think that's what he is."
Another disgruntled constituent testified that he too had left an unreturned message.
"I have lost all faith in him as my supervisor," said Scottsville resident Rob W. Pippin Sr.
Ella Jordan, clerk of the Board of Supervisors, later testified that callers to her office– which is where Pippin allegedly left his message– routinely get instructed to contact supervisors at email addresses and numbers listed on the county website. "We tell them they don't maintain office hours here," said Jordan.
Among the evidence amassed for the defense were four thick binders containing email correspondence Dumler sent his constituents over the past year, as well as an annual report he began distributing in March. The embattled supervisor testified about a mass email system that allows him to communicate with thousands of recipients and said he responded to all messages pertaining to county business.
"I do not believe that my resignation or failure to resign is an issue of county business," Dumler testified.
Supervisor Dennis Rooker, an independent who often votes in accord with the Democratic Dumler, was called by the defense. Rooker said he'd experienced no problems communicating with Dumler, and that if he were up for reelection, he would consider using the email system Dumler embraced. Like Dumler, Rooker is an attorney, and he acknowledged abstaining from several votes in situations where a client was involved in a county matter.
"Have you ever abstained or recused yourself because you were accused of a crime or convicted of a crime?" Doucette asked.
"No," replied Rooker.
Summarizing testimony from the three supervisors who testified, Defense attorney Phillips asked Judge Higgins to reject the attempted ouster, claiming all accusations against Dumler for neglect, including his inability to immediately respond to constituents during the 29 days he served in jail, as well as his abstention from some votes– are things "that can be attributed to the other supervisors who are here today. Are they all neglectful?"
The effort to remove Dumler, Phillips said, "is evidence of people who don't like Mr. Dumler and want him to resign. That doesn't go to neglect and material adverse effect," said Phillips, insisting there is only one legal way to remove him.
"The people of Scottsville can vote Mr. Dumler out of office," she said.
Dumler has already indicated that he won't stand for reelection when his term ends in 2015. Higgins will rule on the petition on May 31.Read more on: Chris Dumler