The judges of the 20th Judicial Circuit have recused themselves from presiding over any hearing related to a lawsuit filed by telecommunications firm OpenBand against the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and two homeowners’ associations.
In an order signed Jan. 15 by Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin, it says the judges believe it’s improper for them to hear the case because one of the defendants is an attorney who regularly practices before the circuit.
The case has been referred to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia to designate another district.
The order refers to attorney John Whitbeck, who is the president of the Lansdowne on the Potomac Homeowners Association, one of 15 defendants in the lawsuit, including the HOA itself.
The twist in the case comes after Judge Thomas Horne had already heard arguments from Julia Judkins, an attorney for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to halt a discovery request from OpenBand. Judkins had also filed a motion challenging OpenBand’s right to maintain the lawsuit that was to be heard by Horne next month.
OpenBand’s attorney Kevin B. Bedell had filed a motion requesting information concerning Supervisors Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Shawn Williams’ (R-Broad Run) role in the Board of Supervisors decision to deny the telecommunication firm a franchise agreement in September.
Buona and Williams, who are also represented by Judkins, are named as individual defendants in the lawsuit that was filed Oct. 10. In the lawsuit, OpenBand alleges the two supervisors acted beyond their lawful authority in attempting to force a compromise between the business and two homeowners’ associations.
Buona and Williams represent the four communities served by OpenBand.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit is the Southern Walk at Broadlands Homeowners Association and its board.
In the lawsuit, OpenBand says Buona (R-Ashburn) and Williams (R-Broad Run) told the firm they must cut a deal with the two HOAs already embroiled in a private legal battle with the firm in order to secure enough votes with fellow supervisors to approve a 2012 franchise agreement.
OpenBand is asking for not less than $50 million in compensatory damages to be determined by a jury as well as an order declaring that the Loudoun Board of Supervisor’s Sept. 18 denial of a franchise agreement exceeded the scope of legitimate authority granted by the Board of Virginia Code, among others.
In the lawsuit, OpenBand says Loudoun supervisors pressured and coerced them to relinquish a series of private contracts and real property rights agreed on in 2001 with developer Van Metre and to make cash payments to the HOAs as a precondition to the firm receiving a new franchise agreement that would have given them access to public right-of-ways.
OpenBand has an initial Telecommunications Service Agreement with the HOAs for 25 years, followed by four 10-year renewal periods, for a total of 65 years.
However, despite the private agreement, by county law telecommunications providers, such as Comcast and Verizon Fios, must have a franchise agreement that allows access to public-right-of-ways in order to provide service to communities.
Editor’s Note: OpenBand is a subsidiary of M.C. Dean, a Dulles-based engineering firm. M.C. Dean is the former owner of the Loudoun Independent, which merged with the Loudoun Times-Mirror in July 2010. Bill Dean, M.C. Dean CEO and president, holds a minority interest in Times Community Media and sits on its Board of Directors.
For past coverage, see: OpenBand sues county, HOAs for $50 million; alleges unlawful conduct
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