They say time heals all wounds. And so it may be with the various lawsuits filed between different factions at Richmond City Hall over the past four years.
A little extra time — courtesy of the upcoming General Assembly session and the transition to a new mayor — may also end the seemingly never-ending legal battles among Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, City Council and the School Board.
State Sen. Henry Marsh, who represented the School Board after Wilder attempted to evict the school system from City Hall in September 2007, has invoked his legislative privilege to delay proceedings in Wilder's appeal of the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Lawyers representing the various parties received notice from the court in mid-November that a hearing would be scheduled in the January term, but Marsh's duties with the legislature allow him to postpone any such court appearances that fall 30 days before or after the legislative session.
It's likely the hearing already would have come well after the swearing in of Richmond's new mayor, Dwight C. Jones, but Marsh's delay assures it.
A second Wilder appeal to the court — asking that the justices reconsider a decision that negated his attempt to exert hiring and firing authority over employees of City Council — also seems likely to be postponed, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
In both instances Wilder's appeals hinge on his claim that executive privilege prevents lawsuits against the mayor acting in his official capacity, which is why Marsh's move to delay the hearings may end both matters: Because Wilder's appeal argues that the office of the mayor is immune to such suits, it seems likely that the continuation of the appeal rests with whoever occupies that office.
“The new mayor could withdraw the appeals if he wants to: Instruct his attorneys to not take the appeals,” says Brian L. Buniva, a lawyer with LeClair Ryan. The firm has represented the city in both matters.
The Jones camp is officially coy on whether Jones as mayor would withdraw the appeal of the cases, but barely.
“Right now there can only be one mayor at a time,” says David Hicks, chairman of Jones' transition team. “He'll have plenty of time to make those decisions once he's sworn in. That said, the mayor looks forward to creating a new day in the city and putting the past behind us.”
Over the past four years, Wilder and City Council have spent more than $1.1 million in public funds to pay for lawsuits to settle internal city matters, including more than $30,000 on the ongoing dispute over which of two versions of the city's budget is legitimate. The school system has paid its legal team, including Marsh, $177,616.83.