Despite media reports and analysis suggesting otherwise, the prosecutor playing coy, and there only being a single reporter who did some accurate legal research, the fact remains that if convicted of any of the class 3 misdemeanors, Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms can be forcibly removed from office during the sentencing phase of his case.
November 4, 2015 Mayor William Sessoms [nominal R] was charged with five violations of Va. Code § 2.2-3112 a portion of the Virginia Conflict of Interest Act. Pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3120 this type of violation is prosecuted as a class three misdemeanor which carries the lightest sentence under the Conflict of Interest Act.
This should be a huge victory for Sessoms as the charges will not make for an easy conviction, and the comparatively small fine is not commensurate with the criminality perceived by many members of the public.
A special prosecutor
Special prosecutor Michael Doucette was appointed after Virginia Beach C.A. Colin Stolle recused himself. Doucette held a press conference where he answered press questions about the prosecution of Sessoms. Doucette displayed a superb knowledge of the case, the procedure, and the law, except on the issue of removal:
When first asked:
There is no requirement in the statute that he be removed or resign…
When asked differently:
My understanding of Virginia law, and I’ve been a prosecutor for 31 years, is that Judges have the authority that the General Assembly give them, and the General Assembly has not given the Judges the authority to remove someone from office for this particular violation. There are other statutes that are out there that are basically automat, Any felony is an automatic removal. Any sex offense is an automatic removal. This is not on that particular list and so my understanding of Virginia law is that, no a Judge can not do that, I’ve had Judges disagree with me, so, but I don’t think, in my opinion a Judge could not do that.
When read a portion of Va. Code § 2.2-3122 he said:
And I have, I had forgotten about that and I’d have to look at that again because there are different provisions for different violations, to tell you the truth it is a complicated Act…I’d have to look at that again.
Enter a reporter doing actual reporting
Nadeen Yanes of News Channel 3:
Upon conviction thereof, the judge or jury trying the case, in addition to any other fine or penalty provided by law, may order the forfeiture of such office or employment.
She repeats it in the news clip, here. It appears the editors though did not want this to slip into the written article.
So what IS the penalty for Sessoms if convicted?
Up to a $500 fine. Va Code § 2.2-3120
Disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. Va Code § 2.2-3124
And Ms. Yanes is correct, under Va. Code § 2.2-3122:
Any person who knowingly violates any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of malfeasance in office or employment. Upon conviction thereof, the judge or jury trying the case, in addition to any other fine or penalty provided by law, may order the forfeiture of such office or employment.
It is not a secret, it is not a trick, it is right there in Va. Code § 2.2-3122: The Judge has the power to remove Mayor Sessoms from office.
I wonder when the special prosecutor will figure this out…