NOTE: This post has been updated.
By Dan McDermott
Warren County Report
FRONT ROYAL, Va. — July 19, 2010 — Three members of Front Royal Town Council and the Town Attorney were served with legal documents at a Town Hall work session tonight, protesting the whole while.
“Lock em up,” said newly installed Councilman Hollis Tharpe as process server John Arena went about his business with Town Police Lt. Clint Keller racing up from behind.
Earlier today, Warren County Report exclusively reported that the complaints in a $30 million lawsuit charging the town and three councilmen with defamation and hurting a business would be served after the work session, held most Mondays in between the more formal twice-monthly council meetings.
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, 6’8″ 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 and walked away. Looking surprised, Robinett said “Sir, you are going to interrupt a public meeting?”
Arena said nothing and proceeded around the table toward his next target, Councilman Chris W. Holloway. Holloway sat and didn’t say anything (yet.)
Newly installed Mayor Tim Darr asked Arena to wait until after the closed session “which will only last about five minutes.” Arena slowed for a moment before placing the next folder in front of Holloway.
FRPD Lt. Keller (presumably there to beef up the security normally provided solely by Chief Richard Furr) hurried to catch up to Arena and 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 around the 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 a councilman, being told to leave by a mayor and town attorney and chased–albeit slowly–by the top two officials of the town police department, Arena simply proceeded to slowly walk around the table and drop the last two lawsuits of a lifetime in front of Lauder and where Sayre would be again seated, once Arena had left and it was safe to return.
Arena, followed closely by Lt. Keller, simply slowly walked out of the room and left 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 very 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, making it improper for him to offer any further advice or counsel on the case to his clients.
Dan McDermott: firstname.lastname@example.org
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