You are served – council flees, fumes, threatens

Responses citing grounds for defense expected to be filed by Aug. 9

By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report

FRONT ROYAL, Va. — July 22, 2010 — Three members of Front Royal Town Council and the Town Attorney (for the town) were served with legal documents naming them as defendants in a $30-million civil suit at a Town Hall work session July 19, protesting the whole while.

“Lock ’em up,” said newly installed Councilman Hollis Tharpe as process server John Arena calmly went about his business with Town Police Lt. Clint Keller briskly raced up from behind.

The council had just voted to go into a closed session to discuss their lawsuit with the town attorney (an item conspicuously absent from the agenda) and it appeared to some that one meeting had ended but another had not yet begun as spectators, staff and reporters began packing their items up to leave.

At this point, process server Arena, 6-foot-9-inches tall and armed with size 18 feet and four 154-page copies of a lawsuit that could cost Front Royal taxpayers millions, casually sprung into action.

Arena first placed a folder in front of Town Attorney Thomas R. Robinett, thus serving notice to the town government, and walked away. Expressing some consternation Robinett said, “Sir, you are going to interrupt a public meeting?”

Arena said nothing and methodically proceeded around the table toward his next target, Vice Mayor Chris W. Holloway. Holloway sat and didn’t say anything (yet.)

Newly installed Mayor Tim Darr asked Arena if he could wait until after the closed session which the mayor promised would only last “about five minutes.” Arena slowed for a moment before placing the next folder in front of Holloway. As Arena proceeded around the mayor toward his final two targets, Holloway threw his hands into the air in exasperation.

FRPD Lt. Keller (presumably there to beef up the security normally provided solely by Chief Richard Furr) moved up behind Arena as Furr stood guard at the other side of the table.

Councilman Tharpe (perhaps emboldened since he wasn’t on Arena’s $30 million hit list) issued some advice to Arena and instructions for Keller. “You’ve been warned. Lock him up,” Tharpe said in a most serious tone.

At this point target 3, Councilman Sayre (who had been ducking behind people throughout the meeting to avoid our reporter’s camera) got up and walked to the far end of the meeting table to flee Arena and his intimidating folders. Councilman Carson Lauder, target 4, sat calmly and took it like a man. Even calmer, considering he was being threatened with jail by one councilman, being asked to wait by a mayor and town attorney and chased – albeit slowly – by one of the top two officials of the town police department, Arena simply proceeded to slowly walk around the table to drop the last two lawsuits of a lifetime in front of Lauder and at Sayre’s suddenly vacated seat. With Sayre out of camera range at the far end of the table, Arena appears to make eye contact, says, “Mr. Sayre,” and drops his final packet at Sayre’s place.

Arena, followed closely by Lt. Keller, then calmly walked out of the room and the building.

Mayor Darr (who is not an attorney and may not have realized that the serving had been completed once the packets were placed in front of the recipients) asked Chief Furr to return the complaints to Arena.

“He’s going to jail. He can’t take them to jail,” offered Tharpe, unaware that Arena had committed no crime and already left the building.

Town Attorney Robinett, realizing the deed had been done, suggested they keep the thick folders.

As the only person in the room with a video camera, I stayed to capture all this, apparently drawing the ire of target 2 Holloway who turned to me and said, “Hey Dan, this is a closed meeting,” while raising his eyebrows almost to his scalp and jabbing at the air toward the door with his pen.

“I’m leaving, chill out buddy,” I said to Holloway as I slowly packed up my things and kept the camera rolling for a few more precious seconds.

Council then went into closed session to discuss the lawsuit and were perhaps advised on the matter for the last time by Town Attorney Robinett, who’s own packet probably contained a letter from Attorney David W. Silek warning that Robinett would be called as a witness in the case and would most likely be deposed, likely making it improper for him to offer any further advice or counsel on the case to his clients.

Defense responses to the lawsuit must be filed within 21 calendar days, making Aug. 9 that deadline.

Responding to this reporter and Roger Bianchini’s comments on his actions during the process serving on WZRV’s The News at Noon on July 20, Sayre explained by e-mail, “It appeared to me he [Arena] might be arrested on the spot and I got out of the way in case there was an altercation.”

Sayre has not yet responded to our follow up question about leaving a considerably older co-defendant, Carson Lauder, to fend for himself had such an altercation, as unlikely as it seemed, occurred.

As for council criticism on the method of the serving and his notifying the media in advance of it, SolAVerde attorney David Silek told us, “It is no different than when the police alert the press about a high profile suspect being “perp walk” in front of cameras.

“They chose to publicly defame my clients and they chose this process. We publicly asked for a retraction on several occasions and that a settlement be offered. I have repeatedly asked that the source of the leak man up and come forward. To me, the only reason that person or persons haven’t yet come forward is self interest. They have put their individual self interest above that of the Town of Front Royal and exposed all of the town to liability – that’s how selfish that person is.”

“If the public wants that kind of representation then as they say, people get the government they deserve. But I can’t imagine the public wants that kind of representation,” Silek concluded.

Asked about Sayre’s explanation of his actions in being served, Silek said, “I think the video speaks for itself. It is far more telling than anyone’s attempt at self-justification.”

Dan McDermott:

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