We went to Richmond to meet with some of our elected representatives on your behalf.
Here’s what happened. . . .
By Van Hardenbergh
Friday the 13th typically is a day filled with dread and fear. This year in February it was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, perfect for a visit to the General Assembly. We started by sitting down with Joe Preston, the newest Delegate from our hometown of Petersburg. Joe represents the 63rd District, which in addition to Petersburg includes part of Hopewell, as well as part of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, and Prince George Counties. He narrowly avoided missing the deadline for candidates in a special election that was viewed by many as rushed. When Roslyn Dance was elected to the Virginia Senate, Joe mounted a fast and furious campaign and won more than 78% of the vote. (Joe has proposed HB1971, which addresses special elections and requires that the public be given two weeks’ notice before the vote happens.)
You will all be glad to know that Joe is one of us, a trial lawyer, with decades of courtroom experience that inform his service as a legislator. His pedigree as an attorney is apparent from a quick glance at his resumé, which includes serving as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Petersburg; teaching at the Petersburg Police Academy for 12 years; serving as President, Vice President, and Treasurer of the Petersburg Bar Association and as a member of the boards of the Petersburg Public Library, Legal Aid, Criminal Corrections Resources, and the Petersburg Juvenile Court Service Unit.
Joe was quick to tell us where he stands on the issues important to his constituents. He cited Petersburg’s public schools, which have been haunted by a long history of failing to meet state accreditation standards and are widely viewed as among the worst in Virginia. One of Joe’s goals is to increase subsidies for breakfast to give children the energy they need to get through the school day. He brings a passionate voice to the issue, having grown up in the area and seen first-hand how many children are neglected and hungry.
We talked to Joe about doing our part to help. By establishing our headquarters right here in Petersburg, we have helped bring jobs and tax dollars to a city that many thought was hopeless. We talked to Joe about the State Supreme Court database, and our push to get back in. Lawyers should be given access to the database, and CAMS is leading the charge to get it. Joe certainly understands the need for us to communicate with defendants and market our services, and expressed support for a plan that would allow equal access to the data.
Our next stop was the office of Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville). He is also a traffic defense attorney, and his assistance has been invaluable to us in the past.
We expressed our concern about HB1317, which would have increased Virginia’s Reckless Driving threshold to 85 mph. Sponsored by Del. Jeff Campbell (R-Marion), the bill made it out of the House Transportation subcommittee and the full committee before it was killed in the Courts of Justice committee. This bill struck terror into the hearts of Virginia’s traffic defense bar, which earns a very significant portion of fees from people charged with Reckless Driving. You will be glad to know that Ryan did not see any such bill getting enacted in the near future.
When we heard of this near miss in the General Assembly, we decided to put our CAMS data-retrieval system to work. We wondered how much money Del. Campbell’s jurisdiction (Smyth County) would have lost in 2014 if his law were in effect.
We analyzed cases in code section 46.2-862, Reckless Driving by Speed. Last year, Smyth County docketed 5,109 cases of Reckless Driving by Speed, 900 of which involved speeds from 81 to 84 mph. The county collected $90,387 in fines and $71,093 in court costs, a total of $161,480. If these cases were reclassified as Simple Speeding, the fines would total just $68,090 ($6 for every mile over 70 mph), meaning that the county would have lost $93,390. Smyth is a small, rural county in southwestern Virginia. Extrapolate our data to larger, more well-traveled jurisdictions, and it’s easy to see that the loss of revenue across the state would be significant. Obviously, our analysis does not address the loss of revenue for us, our firms, and the people we employ.
On our way out of the Capitol we just happened to run into another one of our own elected officials, Senator Roslyn Dance (D-Petersburg). She was gracious enough to take a photo with us and tell us about some of her legislative initiatives. One of those includes the effort to automatically reinstate the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have finished serving their sentences.