By Callie Hietala
The Supreme Court of Virginia has appointed the 3-judge panel that will rule on the issue of Martinsville’s reversion to a town.
The judges are the Hon. Rufus A. Banks, Jr., of the 1st Judicial Circuit (Chesapeake), the Hon. Frederick A. Rowlett, of the 28th Judicial Circuit (City of Bristol, Smyth County, and Washington County), and the Hon. W. Reilly Marchant of the 13th Judicial Circuit (Richmond), who will serve as the Chief Judge of the special court.
Stephen Piepgrass of Troutman Pepper, the firm representing Martinsville in its reversion proceedings, said because the panel was just appointed, he is unaware of what, if any, additional hearings on the issue the panel might want to have.
“You may recall that Henry County filed in Henry County Circuit Court a lawsuit saying the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and the VSA (Voluntary Settlement Agreement) are essentially worthless and cannot be enforced in any way,” City Attorney Eric Monday said during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
On Jan. 4, the Henry County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to file a complaint for declaratory judgement in Henry County Circuit Court to stop the city’s attempt to force the county to comply with the MOU and VSA. The supervisors voted 4-2 to reject the negotiated VSA in a Dec. 2021 meeting, a move that resulted in a contested reversion process.
“We are currently moving to have that case consolidated in front of the 3-judge panel, taking the position that state law says that the panel is empowered to rule on all matters that are related to reversion,” Monday said. “It would then be our position that either the VSA or the MOU, both of which were signed by the county, still governs this situation.”
Though Piepgrass said a timeline is not yet in place, Monday said Tuesday, “I would anticipate that there would be some rulings coming from the 3-judge panel relatively quickly.”
Even if the special court finds in favor of Martinsville’s reversion, two companion bills passed by the General Assembly would require a voter referendum on the issue within the city before the court granted town status.
The city also submitted a letter to Gov. Glenn Youngkin asking him to veto the legislation. As of late Wednesday afternoon, Youngkin had taken no action on the bills.