Judge hears arguments, puts off decision in Dumler petition trial

Embattled Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler leaves the courtroom after today's petition trial. Photo: Laura Ingles Embattled Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler leaves the courtroom after today’s petition trial. Photo: Laura Ingles

A small group of protesters holding signs that read “Dumler must go” gathered outside the Albemarle County Circuit Courthouse this afternoon for the trial to determine whether Albemarle County Supervisor Chris Dumler will be removed from office. Four and a half hours of testimony later, Judge Cheryl Higgins announced that she will review the evidence presented and announce her decision at 9:30am on Friday, May 31.

Dumler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery in January 2013, following an October arrest on the charge of forcible sodomy, a felony. Scottsville resident Earl Smith circulated a petition to have Dumler removed from office, and after the County Voter Registration and Elections office confirmed the signatures of 470 registered voters, the petition was put in front of Higgins.

County Supervisors Ken Boyd, Duane Snow, and Dennis Rooker were among the dozen witnesses to take the stand during today’s trial. Boyd, the first to give a testimony, stated that he had wanted to give Dumler the benefit of the doubt after his arrest, but “lost all respect for him” after his conviction.

Snow, who delivered an emotional speech at the February 6 Board of Supervisors meeting requesting that Dumler resign and send the right message to women and children, testified that Dumler has abstained from voting on certain matters, canceled Scottsville town hall meetings, and missed events like Sunday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of Scottsville’s 10-year improvement project. Snow emphasized that he and had lost his faith in Dumler and wanted County residents to know that they did not support his actions.

“It’s important that the general public know that the Board does not condone what has taken place,” Snow said.

Other witnesses called by Special Prosecutor Michael Doucette, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the city of Lynchburg, included former Board of Supervisors member Peter Way, Scottsville residents Jackie Aikins, Elizabeth Boyer, and Rob Pippin, and Dumler. Defense attorney Jessica Phillips also called Dumler to the stand, as well as County Supervisor Dennis Rooker, Board of Supervisors Clerk Ella Jordan, Albemarle County Chief of Public Works Michael Freitas, Assistant to the County Executive Lee Catlin, and Dumler’s campaign treasurer Ashleigh Crocker.

In his closing arguments, Doucette said constituents need to have confidence in their representatives’ judgement. “They need to have an ability to believe he listens to them, and is acting in their best interest as their representative.”

Dumler knew that, Doucette said, but in recent months, his actions haven’t shown it.

“I would submit to the court that…Dumler recognizes from his annual report that he has an obligation to be in contact and communicate with his constituents. The evidence is before this court that he…is very selective as to what he sees as being county business, and what he’s going to respond to.”

But in her own closing, Phillips said Dumler’s absence from boards and commissions doesn’t rise to neglect of duties, and that if anything, Dumler has gone “above and beyond” when it comes to responding to constituents.

“All I heard…is evidence of people who don’t like Mr. Dumler, don’t like that he was convicted of this offense, and want him to resign,” she said., but that’s not enough. “The people of Scottsville are going to have a chance to vote Mr. Dumler out of office if they want to—because they don’t like his haircut, because they don’t like him, because they don’t like that he was convicted, or because they don’t like his politics. For whatever reason. But that’s not why we’re here today. And otherwise we’re rewriting the statute, because the statute is clear that he cannot be removed because of his conviction.”

Dumler and Phillips were approached by reporters and TV cameras when they exited the courthouse at about 5:15, but Dumler said he would have no comment until the ruling on May 31.