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WRF Election Law Attorneys Secure Voting Rights for Virginia Voters

September 2002

WRF Lawsuit Prompts Special Election in Northern Virginia
Five Northern Virginia voters, represented by WRF, declared a major victory in July as they dismissed their lawsuit against election officials of the Commonwealth of Virginia having won the right to hold a special election to elect a senator of their own to the General Assembly.

In June, WRF election law attorneys Lee E. Goodman and Thomas W. Kirby filed a federal lawsuit, Haddow, et al. v. Warner, et al., on behalf of their clients against the Governor of Virginia and Virginia election officials claiming Virginia election laws violated the equal protection and due process rights of over 48,000 disenfranchised voters in Fairfax and Prince William Counties.

"We were pleased to help the citizens of Northern Virginia secure their civil rights to vote and representation in the General Assembly," said WRF attorney Lee E. Goodman. "Our clients had the courage to challenge an unfair election system, and the people of Fairfax and Prince William won a right to vote for a senator from their community as a result."

The lawsuit was triggered when Senator Warren Barry resigned in June. Virginia called a special election in a newly created 37th Senatorial District instead of the original district Senator Barry had represented under Virginia's prior apportionment plan. That left over 48,000 citizens who had been moved from Senator Barry's old 37th to a new 39th Senatorial District wholly unrepresented by any incumbent senator who resided in the district. A central issue in the lawsuit was whether the incumbent state senator from the old 39th Senatorial District in Shawsville, Virginia, a rural town in the Southwest region of the State, had been assigned—or constitutionally could be assigned—to represent the people of Fairfax County and Prince William County in the northern region of the state.

Five days after the lawsuit was filed, faced with a choice of either moving to Fairfax County to satisfy Virginia Constitutional requirements or stepping down, the incumbent senator from Southwest Virginia announced that he would retire by the end of summer, and he formalized his retirement in a letter to the governor on July 22, four days before the case was to go to a hearing in federal court. The Governor's Office then promptly issued a writ of special election which granted WRF's clients a special election of their own in their new 39th Senatorial District of Fairfax County and Prince William County, precisely the result requested in WRF's lawsuit.

"There's no doubt that Wiley Rein & Fielding's legal action forced the politicians in Richmond to respect my constituents' constitutional rights," said Virginia Delegate Jay O'Brien who represents sections of the new 39th Senatorial District in the Virginia House of Delegates and will run for State Senate in the upcoming special election. "The citizens in my district went without effective representation for many months, and faced the prospect of an unfair special election until Wiley Rein & Fielding stepped in. Now, the people I represent will have their own special election to vote for a senator who lives in their community and shares their interests on many important issues like transportation, taxes and education."

WRF represented John Haddow, Bruno Maestri, James Arritt, William Jasien and David Pace in the lawsuit.

For more information about this case or other questions relating to voting rights, contact Tom Kirby (202.719.7062 or).