The Ripple Effect: What Happens When This is All Over?
Well, that's the big question, isn't it?
Assuming that Chancellor Fansler rules for the plaintiffs,and finds that the County Commissioners did in fact violate the State Open Meetings Act, what can he do about it? And more importantly, what will happen afterward?
According to the law, Fansler has a couple of options. He can issue an injunction to the Commission telling them to cut it out. The injunction will carry with it specific penalties for continued violations of the Sunshine Act, but will leave the commissioners in place. Or he can void any actions taken by the Commission that he feels derived from violations of the Sunshine Act. This could include the removal of some or all of the folks appointed on Jan 31, leading to a complete do-over.
My guess is that Chancellor Fansler would lean towards an injunctive remedy if he felt that while there were violations of the Act, they were primarily individual in nature, and not symptomatic of organized activities by members of the commission. On the other hand, if he finds that the abuse was organized and widespread, then he may very well invalidate the proceedings of Jan 31.
That's when things really get interesting, because then every ruling made by the commission from Jan 31 to the present will be called into question. We could be dealing with lawsuits for years, as people who came up on the short end of zoning decisions, or other county business will appeal based on the fact that the commission was invalid. It could get very interesting and that's not even mentioning the battle over how to fill the vacated seats. The folks who gamed the system show no signs that they will go away without a fight.
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This strategy, however, is not without its risks. If individuals are found to have willfully violated the Sunshine Law, they could possibly be open to ouster action under § 8-47-101 of the TCA. That would require another round of legal action that would come close to outliving some of their terms of office, but there's a chance those lawsuits would wrap up before some of those being sued were to complete runs for other offices.
I sincerely hope that scenario doesn't come to fruition, though. Ultimately, I want to see those appointees removed from their ill-gotten positions. I didn't vote to have a toady and an adulterer represent me in 4th District, and I'm absolutely appalled that they were forced upon me. I'm sure I'm not the only one in my district who feels that way.