When recusal is the right action

When recusal is the right action

To the editor:

Should Alexandria Circuit Court judges recuse themselves when City Council is a defendant?

Recently in Arlington County, the judges unanimously recused themselves in a lawsuit against the county that challenged a new ordinance on zoning and density. Similarly, all the judges in Alexandria recused themselves in a lawsuit brought against City Council in the “Zoning for Housing” lawsuit.

I was happy to see that these recusals were made thoughtfully to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest so that an unbiased outside judge will hear these cases.

In Alexandria, City Council directly contributes and subsidizes the Alexandria Court system in addition to funding appropriated by the State of Virginia. In FY 2024 alone, City Council funded the Courts $1,776,710.

The Judicial Canons require a judge to consider their impartiality as well as the public trust in the fairness of the judiciary.

A group of Alexandria citizens have filed a lawsuit against the City Council of Alexandria over the proposed 301 N. Fairfax St. development. The Court has scheduled a hearing for May 6. Like the previous cases referenced above, I believe the judges in Alexandria should recuse themselves in this lawsuit and bring in an outside, unbiased judge to avoid even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest.

In my opinion, it is an inherent conflict of interest for courts funded by a City Council that is also a litigant to fail to recuse themselves in disputes that come before the court.

I believe there is a clear appearance of impropriety, if not an actual conflict of interest, when Alexandria judges hear and decide cases where City Council is a party. The Alexandria judges should institute a policy to recuse themselves whenever City Council is named a party, including all zoning challenges.

The citizens and taxpayers who bring these lawsuits deserve no less.

-Tom Foley,