Dumler stays, fires back: Judge says not enough evidence to remove
Followed by angry protesters shouting, "rapist," besieged Supervisor Chris Dumler left Albemarle Circuit Court today after a judge rejected a petition to remove him from office.
The May 31 hearing culminates a rare proceeding in Virginia: petitioning to remove an elected official from office. And in making her decision, Judge Cheryl Higgins said there simply wasn't enough evidence that Dumler had neglected his job on the Board of Supervisors after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery in January.
"I think Judge Higgins got this one right," said Dumler after the brief hearing. "She did her homework." As protesters stood behind him with signs, Dumler told reporters he was not resigning "just because people were upset" and would stay in office because of the issues facing the county.
As for regaining the public's trust, Dumler said, "I'm going to keep doing my job," over a cacophony of people shouting "rapist!"
He was accompanied by supporters Cynthia Neff, former vice-chair of the Albemarle Democratic Party, and Tom Olivier, one of the few to speak in Dumler's defense at a Board of Supervisors meeting.
Dumler was arrested October 18 and charged with felony forcible sodomy, and a felony conviction would have been enough to oust him from office, according to Virginia statute. So would misdemeanor pot possession. But the infrequently used statute doesn't address sexual battery.
It does allow for a petition for removal signed by 10 percent of the registered voters who voted in the last election for the office in question, and Keene resident Earl Smith submitted nearly 600 signatures of Scottsville district residents calling for Dumler's removal. Of those, 472 were verified by Dumler's trial— 100 more than required.
In court last week, special prosecutor Mike Doucette argued that Dumler's resignation from committees supes typically serve on and recusal from voting on issues such as a police firing range constituted neglect of duties with a "material adverse effect."
Judge Higgins went through the statute and listed the misdemeanor convictions eligible for removal— basically marijuana and hate crimes— and said she could not remove him for those. And she noted that while people were upset he was convicted for sexual battery, she was limited in what she could do.
"We knew it was an uphill battle," said Dumler-objecter Steve Peters after the decision. "We knew the judge would have to set precedent."
"I support Judge Higgins' decision," said petition-gatherer Smith, who added that he was happy with the process and that nearly 600 people could express their displeasure by signing his petition. And he's now looking to the General Assembly to address the sexual batterer loophole.
"We're stuck with him for the next two-and-a-half years," says Supervisor Ken Boyd. "I think it's unfortunate for people in the Scottsville District. We're going to have to pick up the slack because we get emails from people in his district who don't want to deal with him."
And as for Dumler, this is perhaps the first weekend he hasn't had legal matters hanging over his head since October. According to Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, the 30-day sentence he served mostly on weekends was completed May 18.
"The only thing I remain disappointed in is that the conservative and tea party elements behind this petition were allowed to waste such a significant amount of taxpayer money and valuable court resources on such an obviously frivolous lawsuit," he said in an email after the hearing. "For a group of individuals who purport to hold in such high regard the principle of 'efficient use of taxpayer dollars' and in such disregard [of] the notion of 'activist judges,' they sure wasted a lot of taxpayer money pursuing a frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to circumvent the electoral process. Maybe they should add a caveat to their beliefs: '... except and unless it's politically opportunistic to believe otherwise.'"
Updated June 3 with Ken Boyd's comments.Read more on: Chris Dumler