RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A federal judge placed blame on former Attorney General Mark Herring’s office for delaying a case challenging the 2021 Virginia House elections with appeals and for not taking the Democratic activist behind the legal effort “seriously.”
Paul Goldman, the former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, filed a lawsuit last June in the Eastern District of Virginia that aims to force House elections this year using the new legislative districts approved by the state’s Supreme Court.
Last October, U.S. District Judge David J. Novak agreed with the state’s challenge that the governor was immune to such lawsuits on sovereign immunity grounds but ruled Goldman could sue the individual members of the State Board of Elections and Virginia’s Election Commissioner.
Herring’s office appealed Novak’s decision to the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 18, 2021, where the lawsuit remained for months until a three-judge panel sent the case back to the Eastern District of Virginia.
“We lost five months,” Novak said in court Monday, criticizing the state’s decision-making when Herring’s office was handling the case. “We are back to where we were in October…you can complain about Mr. Herring all you want.”
Judge Novak was critical of Herring for appealing his ruling to allow the case to move forward, claiming the former attorney general’s office didn’t respond to some of Goldman’s filings.
The judge also took exception with Herring’s office abandoning the sovereign immunity argument to pivot on whether Goldman has legal standing to sue, the argument currently before the Eastern District of Virginia after the appeals court’s decision.
“This has taken way too long,” Novak told Steven G. Popps, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ deputy, on Monday. “So unhappy with your predecessors. They didn’t take him [Goldman] seriously and that’s a problem.”
Former Attorney General Herring, a Democrat who lost to Republican Jason Miyares last November, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In court Monday, Novak laid out the steps Goldman and Miyares’ office will have to take as the court reviews if Goldman has established that he was injured by the decision to hold the 2021 elections using the maps updated with 2011 census data.
Both parties will have to submit briefs on who should decide if Goldman has legal standing to sue, a three-judge panel including Novak or just Novak, whether Goldman has standing as a voter or a prospective candidate in potential 2022 House elections and if oral arguments are needed.
Novak shared Monday that he doesn’t feel like a hearing is needed, telling both parties Goldman’s legal standing could be decided “off the paper.” He made clear that the three-judge panel will decide whether Novak or the group will rule on whether Goldman has standing.
While Goldman’s case could never make it to trial if he fails to prove he has the standing to sue, other groups have indicated they are willing to file their own lawsuits for new House elections.
Pastor Michelle C. Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP, said the county has four of the most overpopulated House districts as the old districts used for 2021 elections were not updated with new census data to reflect the population shifts over the last decade.
“Loudoun County has its own issue of standing and every one of those voters have been disenfranchised and are grossly misrepresented,” Thomas said Monday.
The local NAACP branch announced it would seek to join Goldman’s legal effort but Thomas acknowledged that another lawsuit may need to be filed if the Eastern District of Virginia rules that Goldman doesn’t have the standing to sue. If the Loudoun NAACP decides to file its own lawsuit, it would be in the Western District of Virginia.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.