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Sun Gazette: Legislators Voice Criticism of Race Tactics in County Lawsuit Print
by SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff Writer

© Created: Monday, February 7, 2011 8:27 AM EST

Members of Arlington’s legislative delegation say it is time for the County Board to drop its HOT-lanes lawsuit, and seem to suggest that County Board members may have seriously harmed good relations between Arlington and the state government.

In a joint statement issued Feb. 3, the six members of the delegation appeared to obliquely criticize the County Board’s decision to inject race into its still-pending 2009 lawsuit. As part of that suit, the county government sued a number of federal and state officials, in their official and individual capacities, based on alleged violations of civil-rights laws related to the proposal to allow a private consortium to turn part of Interstate 395 into a toll road.

That part of the lawsuit drew howls of protest from many quarters, and led to criticism that the county government was attempting to intimidate the defendants by putting their reputations and personal finances at risk.

The joint statement - issued by state Sens. Patsy Ticer and Mary Margaret Whipple and Dels. Bob Brink, Patrick Hope, David Englin and Adam Ebbin - tacitly acknowledged that those complaints may have had some validity.

“While the suit sought to protect important environmental interests of Arlington’s residents, certain elements of the suit may have damaged Arlington’s reputation as a fair-minded community,” it reads.

Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), the senior member of the Arlington delegation in the House of Delegates, was more direct.

“Suing individuals . . . might have been clever legal strategy, but it struck me and other people as unfair. It gave Arlington a black eye,” he told the Sun Gazette.

Brink said that while the delegation had not publicly criticized the legal tactics prior to the Feb. 3 letter, “a number of people have expressed their concern” to County Board members.

The all-Democratic Arlington delegation in Richmond has found itself under assault this session in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. One major piece of county legislation, a requested extension of a tax surcharge to fund tourism promotion in the county, was killed by a House subcommittee in retaliation for the HOT-lanes lawsuit. A senior Republican also has tailored several proposed budget amendments to hit the county government in the pocketbook.

Although the state government last week announced plans to scrap the HOT-lanes project on Interstate 395 inside the Beltway, county officials have not committed to ending their lawsuit. The statement from the delegation says the suit should be ended “as swiftly as possible.”

“There is no reason to pursue this litigation any further,” the statement said.

County officials did not respond to a request for comment on deadline.