- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

A federal civil rights panel is threatening to subpoena Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III to meet with its members to discuss its latest report on purported unequal justice for black Virginians.

Several members of the Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said they are upset that Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, has repeatedly "refused" to meet with the panel for nearly six months to discuss the findings of its report released in April.

The report found serious inequities in the sentences for poor blacks. It also focused on racial profiling and advocated a system to monitor police and prosecutors.

At a meeting in Charlottesville Wednesday, panel members who were present voted to find out whether the federal commission, which is appointed by the president and Congress, can use subpoena power to compel a meeting with Mr. Gilmore.

"We tried and tried and tried to meet with the governor, but he keeps slapping us in the face," said committee member Naomi Zeavin, a Republican from Falls Church. "He keeps refusing to meet with us. It's disappointing to see someone in my party to act like he doesn't care."

Gilmore spokesman Mark Miner said yesterday threatening a subpoena is not the way to meet with the governor.

"It's outrageous that a federal committee would use scare tactics to meet with the governor," Mr. Miner said. "Using threats is no way to conduct business and is not going to advance any of the goals on the issues they are looking at here."

Mr. Miner said Mr. Gilmore still may meet with the committee "if time permits."

The panel's report, titled "Unequal Justice: African-Americans in the Virginia Criminal Justice System," found serious inequities in the sentences for poor blacks. Panelists pointed out that Virginia has the lowest-paid court-appointed lawyers in the country, but the second-highest-paid judges.

The report also documented the state's failure to restore voting rights years after felony sentences are served and a widespread perception among black Virginians that the system discriminates against them.

Mr. Miner said Mr. Gilmore responded to the panel in an April 27 press release given to committee members.

"The governor has a proven track record of achievement on a number of these issues," Mr. Miner said. "There's still more work that needs to be done, but the governor has already addressed many of these issues."

For example, Mr. Gilmore stated in the press release that the 2000 General Assembly increased pay for court-appointed lawyers and that he worked with Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones, Norfolk Democrat, to craft legislation that streamlined restoration of ex-felons' voting rights.

But some committee members, who had worked on the report for the last six years, said they deserve more than a press release. "It's disappointing to see the governor act as if the report doesn't matter," said the Rev. Curtis W. Harris, a committee member from Hopewell, Va.

The state advisory committee is made up of 11 members, all of whom are appointed by the federal commission staff. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has six Democrats and two Republicans, is an independent, bipartisan fact-finding agency that has no power to impose a federal monitor.

Only four committee members voted Wednesday to ask the commission if it can subpoena Mr. Gilmore to meet with the panel, Mr. Harris said. The other members were either not present at the meeting or did not vote.

"We got the majority of the vote to start the procedure," Ms. Zeavin said.

Mr. Harris, a Democrat, said yesterday the panel had "on several occasions" talked to the governor's office about setting up times and dates for a meeting, but "nothing transpired," he said.

"We assume that the governor does not want to meet with a legitimate governmental agency," Mr. Harris said. "For the governor to treat volunteer citizens the way he has is not befitting of a governor who says he is the governor for all of the people… . Making the recommendation we did is a big step, but we have run out of ammunition."

Mr. Miner said the governor had "prior commitments" that didn't allow him to meet with the panel. Mr. Miner said the panel turned down a meeting with Mr. Gilmore's top legal adviser and director of policy to talk about the report.

Ms. Zeavin said the panel turned down the meeting because neither of Mr. Gilmore's top aides could speak for the governor.

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