Thursday, July 26, 2007

Judge to rule Thursday on civil fees

A Henrico County General District judge said today that he will rule next Thursday on the constitutionality of the civil remedial fees for abusive drivers.

Anthony O. Price pleaded no contest before Judge Archer L. Yeatts III to a misdemeanor charge of driving on a suspended license. The plea subjected Price to the payment of $750 in civil penalties over the next 26 months under the law that took effect July 1.

Price’s court-appointed attorneys, Craig S. Cooley and Esther J. Windmueller, contended that the fees violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because they apply only to Virginia residents.

Virginia Code § 16.1-131.1 requires a judge who finds a law unconstitutional to stay the proceedings and provide a written statement of his findings of law and relevant facts in support of his ruling to the circuit court. The law requires the circuit court to give the case priority on its docket and provides for an interlocutory appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals if the circuit court also finds the law to be unconstitutional.

Although he referred to the statute, Yeatts did not indicate how he will rule on the issue.

The fees received scant attention during the legislative session when they were included in a major transportation funding package. They are expected to eventually generate about $65 million annually. Publicity about them as they were about to take effect has created a firestorm of criticism about their high cost and the failure of the law to cover out-of-state drivers.

Price’s case was moved from Aug. 8 to Tuesday at Windmueller’s request, but Price did not get word of the change and did not appear. The case was rescheduled for today once he learned of the change.

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