- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

The former mayor of Gate City, Va., was acquitted last week on charges he paid for votes in a 2004 election, but he still faces 35 more vote-fraud charges.

The one-day trial Tuesday in Scott County Circuit Court focused on charges that Charles Dougherty gave residents money and cigarettes for votes in the May 2004 Republican primary.

Mr. Dougherty won by just two votes over Mark Jenkins. Of the 158 absentee ballots cast in the election, 138 were for Mr. Dougherty.

The remaining charges accuse Mr. Dougherty of making false statements on absentee-ballot applications and aiding and abetting in violating election laws to win re-election.

Jurors heard testimony from a woman who said she was given $7 to buy liquor in exchange for her vote.

“I’ve always got paid,” said Beverly Robinette, 57. “If you want to go way on back,” she added, the former mayor “bought me fifths of liquor to vote for him.”

Another woman testified that though she wasn’t a resident of the town, she allowed Mr. Dougherty to fill out an absentee ballot for her in exchange for cigarettes.

But neither woman said she was forced to vote, and the federal charges accused Mr. Dougherty of conspiring to “injure, oppress, threaten, intimidate, prevent or hinder” their right to vote.

Defense attorney Carl McAfee said Mr. Dougherty did none of those things.

“It may not be the right thing to do, but it is not a crime,” Mr. McAfee told the jury.

Acting director

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has named a new acting director for the Department of Mental Health.

Stephen Baron comes to the District from Baltimore, where he has been president of Baltimore Mental Health Systems since 1988. During his tenure, the agency expanded school-based and early-childhood mental health programs.

He said leaving Baltimore for the District will be a challenge because the District’s mental health department functions more like a state agency, with broader responsibilities.

He will serve for the next 10 months until Mr. Williams leaves office, but said he hopes to stay around when a new administration takes office in January.

Schools chief indicted

A Spotsylvania County, Va., grand jury last week indicted the county school superintendent on charges of obstruction of justice and violation of state election law.

One indictment accuses Jerry W. Hill of violating a state law that allows governing bodies, but not school boards, to publish educational materials on bond referendums. It also contends he violated another law that bans public school students from a requirement to deliver materials that advocate support or opposition to candidates or issues such as referendums.

The second indictment accuses him of obstruction of justice.

The indictments stem from a 4-month investigation into a flier prepared by Spotsylvania schools staff about a $41 million school bond referendum last year.

“These indictments which target me personally are puzzling, since I work for the School Board and followed their direction during the development and distribution of the flier,” Mr. Hill said. “I look forward to a quick and fair resolution of this matter, so the important work being done in this school division can continue uninterrupted.”

He could face up to two years in jail and $5,000 in fines if convicted on both counts.

Dealing with stress

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams gave his Web log readers an unsolicited update on how he deals with pressure in what he calls his “zero gratification environment.”

The entry titled “Since You Didn’t Ask” was posted Feb. 15 in the mayor’s sporadically updated blog that’s on the D.C. government’s Web site.

The entry was written in a stream of consciousness format, which, Mr. Williams warns readers, he did not edit before posting.

“The question you haven’t asked, but I’ll answer,” he writes, is “How do I handle the pressure … the relentless, incessant criticism … how do I keep, or do I keep my wits in the midst of the cacophony we call local democracy?”

Mr. Williams, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, goes on to tell readers that amid the tumultuous questions of baseball in the city and the pressures of everyday life, he has found “an inner kind of gyroscope” in religion.

“Religion for me has come to play a central role,” Mr. Williams writes. “Really, I mean it. I’m not some evangelical wrestling you down asking demanding you be saved. I’m just saying that it provides a kind of warm hearth on a cold winter night … .”

The mayor’s blog can be found at https://blog.mayor.dc.gov.

Orders unconstitutional

Orders outgoing Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine issued banning job discrimination against homosexuals by state agencies are unconstitutional, Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell ruled last week.

In a seven-page legal opinion, the Republican attorney general said the two Democrats illegally altered state public policy by treating homosexuals and lesbians as a protected class of employees.

Mr. Kaine, a lawyer, said he had “some grave doubts” about the opinion’s legal accuracy and would not rescind it.

“I’m not going to tell my agency heads and Cabinet secretaries that they’re now free to discriminate,” he said.

Mr. McDonnell issued his ruling at the request of Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, a sponsor last year of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban homosexual “marriage” and a frequent author of anti-abortion legislation.

“The governor, on his own, can’t just make public policy,” Mr. Marshall said.

Mr. McDonnell argued that the opinion was not about sexual orientation or practices, but the scope of executive fiat.

“If this order was about puppies, it would have the same result,” said J. Tucker Martin, Mr. McDonnell’s press secretary. “It’s not so much an opinion about sexual orientation, it is about the separation of powers.”

Mr. Martin said such a policy can’t be set without legislative approval.

The attorney general’s opinion does not have the force of law, nor is it binding on Mr. Kaine. It could serve as a basis for a lawsuit to overturn the order.

“I guess somebody who felt wounded by this could try to file some suit ordering me to allow people to discriminate, but I would find that to be kind of weird,” Mr. Kaine said.

Sixty of the 100 House delegates and 24 of the 40 state senators have either issued statements or signed pledges that sexual orientation would not figure into whom they employ on their legislative staffs.

Mr. Kaine’s office said 14 of the 19 Fortune 500 corporations based in Virginia have sexual-orientation discrimination bans in effect, as do eight of the state’s top 10 employers.

U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen, both Republicans, have a similar policy, as did Mr. McDonnell’s predecessor, Republican former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore. Mr. Kilgore lost last fall’s governor’s race to Mr. Kaine.

ACLU eyes Somerset

The American Civil Liberties Union is examining election redistricting in Somerset County, Md.

The organization said that 20 years after a switch from an at-large system to a single-district principle, blacks have failed to win a seat on the Board of County Commissioners.

Supporters of the switch anticipated a victory by a black candidate after a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for restructuring.

The settlement created five district seats in territories proportioned by race and included a so-called minority district that was at least 51 percent black.

However, bids by blacks for the minority District 1 seat have been unsuccessful since 1986, and the ACLU began its examination after a recent request by the county NAACP, said Kenneth Ballard, branch president.

The ACLU is studying trends in an effort to see why black candidates failed in election bids, Debbie Jeon, legal director of the ACLU of Maryland, said last week.

“This goes back to ‘85, when the lawsuit resulted in a settlement to change to five single districts — with one majority-black — to provide a fair opportunity to elect an African-American,” Miss Jeon told the Salisbury Daily Times. “It didn’t happen. It doesn’t always work that way.”

An ACLU analyst will focus on the possible effects on the voter count of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), a historically black college, and Eastern Correctional Institution, whose populations are counted in the U.S. Census as District 1 residents yet are less likely to vote in local political races, she said.

The prison “is counted in the census, but [many] inmates don’t vote. It is a heavy African-American population that is not a voting population, and that makes it difficult to redistrict,” Miss Jeon said. “Another complicating factor is UMES. It is largely African American, but it is not a voting population in local elections. The census includes them.”

By law and the constitution, voting district lines are evaluated every 10 years and adjusted, if necessary.

• Amy Doolittle contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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