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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Attempting to govern by lawsuit

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Posted: Sunday, June 3, 2012 2:26 pm | Updated: 11:16 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

Governing by lawsuit: We’ve got plenty of that.

Several suits against government decisions are coming to culmination — and as a result, some infrastructure improvements projects will be able to commence. Among suits recently in the news:

 » U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon last week dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to block the Meadow Creek Parkway. Challengers had claimed that the Federal Highway Administration had illegally split the planned roadway into three portions in order to avoid study of environmental impacts.

The road traverses two jurisdictions — Albemarle County and Charlottesville, including the city’s McIntire Park — and has three different funding sources, so it was divided into three construction segments.

Judge Moon ruled that the FHA had properly followed its own regulations and that environmental impacts had been adequately considered.

For long, city and county had been at odds over whether the parkway should be built and, if so, how it should be designed. When the two governments finally reached agreement, a citizens group continued to object to the project and filed suit to stop it.

Albemarle already has completed its portion of the road, renamed for former Sen. John W. Warner. Now that the suit has been dismissed, Charlottesville is moving quickly to get its share of the project under way.

 » On May 18, Circuit Judge Cheryl V. Higgins threw out a suit against a Charlottesville-Albemarle plan to provide for the area’s growth and water supply by raising the Ragged Mountain Dam. That decision also had been a tough one to reach, as none of several proposed plans was eagerly embraced by the populace. And as with the parkway before it, Charlottesville and Albemarle County governments also had differing preferences on what approach to take.

When City Council finally reached agreement with the county, a Charlottesville property owner challenged it, claiming the agreement constituted an improper sale of property. (Ragged Mountain is city property, supplying water to both jurisdictions.) Judge Higgins ruled that the agreement is properly handled as a lease.

That project, too, is poised now to break ground.

 » The Virginia Supreme Court this week will hear appeals of two separate lawsuits claiming that the city and county violated state procurement rules. The city voted to lease ground in McIntire Park for a new YMCA center at an annual price of $1 and contribute $1.25 million; the county will supply another $2.03 million.

The YMCA was set to break ground when a group of private health-club facilities filed suits. The suits were dismissed in circuit court, but appealed.

All four of these cases are attempts to govern by lawsuit.

Our founders provided us with three co-equal branches of government, and so utilizing the judicial branch to attempt to correct perceived misjudgments by the legislative or executive branch is a legitimate enterprise.

The problem arises when suits are filed not to advance the public good but rather to oblige special interests. In a society that seems to become ever more litigious, it is often difficult to find a difference between the two.