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Posted at 1:51 PM ET, 02/14/2011

Cuccinelli accuses Arlington of playing 'dirty' with HOT lanes lawsuit

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) is accusing Arlington County of engaging in "legal thuggery" with an "an egregiously frivolous" and "dirty" lawsuit against the state's proposed construction of High Occupancy Toll lanes along I-95 in Northern Virginia.

Never mind that Arlington agreed to drop the lawsuit last week, after the state announced that it would press ahead with the project but not build the lanes on a six-mile stretch of the road inside the Capital Beltway.

Cuccinelli on Monday issued a lengthy statement castigating the county for its lawsuit -- particularly for attempting to hold state and federal officials personally liable in a civil rights action that argued that construction of the lanes would aide wealthy suburbanites at the expense of quality of life of minority communities closer to Washington.

"In the attorney general's office, we defend state agencies every day in the normal back-and-forth of plaintiff-defendant contests," Cuccinelli wrote. "We petition and respond with our opponents, not unlike two baseball teams competing under the mutually-understood rules of calling balls and strikes. When a pitcher throws an errant 'bean ball' and hits a batter, everybody knows that is wrong. When that pitcher throws multiple bean balls in a game, it is downright dirty, and the crowd wants the umpire to take action."

The Arlington suit had made the county few friends in Richmond, where Fairfax Del. Tim Hugo (R) had been threatening to withhold county funding if the suit wasn't dropped. Even the county's own legislative delegation conceded in a news release this month that "certain elements of the suit may have damaged the county's reputation as a fair minded community."

But the scorching rhetoric of Cuccinelli's release, coming several days after Arlington agreed to drop its suit, is a sign that the state-county fight will not soon be forgotten.

Read Cuccinelli's full statement after the jump.

"As a fellow northern Virginian, I am just as frustrated as the next person about traffic congestion, and I appreciate transportation professionals coming together to figure out innovative solutions. For the past five years, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Virginia Department of Transportation have made a herculean effort to create a comprehensive transportation solution for the notoriously congested I-95 and I-395 corridors. In 2009, the Arlington County Board of Supervisors filed an egregiously frivolous lawsuit against these federal and state agencies as well as officials in their personal capacities; even audaciously accusing those officials of civil rights violations for trying to advance a transportation solution. "The Office of the Attorney General has defended its client, VDOT, from the Arlington County board's legal assault. In the attorney general's office, we defend state agencies every day in the normal back-and-forth of plaintiff-defendant contests. We petition and respond with our opponents, not unlike two baseball teams competing under the mutually-understood rules of calling balls and strikes. When a pitcher throws an errant 'bean ball' and hits a batter, everybody knows that is wrong. When that pitcher throws multiple bean balls in a game, it is downright dirty, and the crowd wants the umpire to take action. "The Arlington County board has thrown several bean balls aimed at other officials, but they are hitting northern Virginia commuters, too. Governmental entities routinely bring legal actions against other agencies over disputes. What distinguishes the Arlington suit, however, is the strategy employed by the board to intimidate public officials by suing them in their official and personal capacities, thereby exposing them to the possibility of being personally liable for monetary damages. The board even refused the simple courtesy of allowing the former secretary of transportation under Gov. Tim Kaine, Pierce Homer, to be dismissed from the suit after he left office. "Not content to just go after senior public officials, the Arlington County board amended its complaint last summer to name as an additional defendant a program manager employed by the Federal Highway Administration. The Arlington County board subjected this career civil servant to wildly unfounded accusations of civil rights discrimination without any basis in fact. That is dirty, and I am confident that most Arlingtonians recognize the legal thuggery that has gone on in this case. "Improving northern Virginia's regional transportation improves Arlington's transportation, too. For now, however, the latter may be on hold, as the other surrounding suburban counties press forward with innovative transportation solutions. Meanwhile, the Arlington County board has spent approximately $2 million in legal fees while taxpayers crawl on increasingly congested roads."

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 14, 2011; 1:51 PM ET
Categories:  Arlington County, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman  
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Comments

"Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) is accusing Arlington County of engaging in "legal thuggery" with an "an egregiously frivolous" and "dirty" lawsuit against the state's proposed construction of High Occupancy Toll lanes along I-95 in Northern Virginia."

That's rich coming from an AG that's been on a witch hunt of scientists that don't jive with his religious beliefs.

Let me let you in on a little secret Cuccinelli. This ain't the 1600's and VA scientists aren't Galileo.

Cuccinelli is wasting tax payer $$$'s with frivolous lawsuits and time wasted when this state has much high priorities.

Who the heck voted for this clown. It's been a circus from day one with this joker!

Posted by: mikefromArlington | February 14, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The Attorney General is quite correct about Arlington County's outrageous lawsuit on I-395 HOT lanes.

It was bad enough that the County Board intervened to PREVENT congestion relief on one of our most crowded highways. The growing congestion adversely affects local Arlington motorists, as well as commuters from farther south; and the County Board's action will make sure that situation gets even worse.

But even more troubling were the strong-arm tactics used by Arlington's lawyers. They made wild charges of racial bias by senior public officials in the Kaine and Obama Administrations (with NO evidence to support the claim). And Arlington then threatened those officials with personal financial liability.

Many of us in Arlington were appalled by the County Board's actions. So were the leaders of both parties in the state legislature. The Washington Post rightly condemned the lawsuit (see last Friday's editorial - http://snipurl.com/21vdvw).

The members of the County Board should be held responsible for their obstructionist attitude and abusive legal tactics. And the lawyers who filed the suit should be reprimanded for their abuse of legal process.

Posted by: jrmil | February 14, 2011 6:42 PM | Report abuse

The Arlington County Board has a responsibility to its citizens. If they prioritize far flung suburban needs Arlington would be a series of 12 lane freeways, all leading up to DC bridge bottlenecks. Why should Arlington, which models smart growth, have to pay a steep price for people who selfishly destroy farmland to build massive McMansions? The HOT Lane concept itself is preposterous. Rich people get to speed to work, poor people get to sit in traffic and ultimately pay more in fuel costs they cannot afford. The car culture is the primary reason climate change exists. The best farmland in the country has been paved. That’s always were humans settle first. This is not sustainable. If oil magically disappeared tomorrow, pre-automobile European cities with diverse transit infrastructures would do just fine. US suburbanites would starve.

Posted by: johnlenin42 | February 15, 2011 4:53 PM | Report abuse

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