An early test of the constitutionality of Virginia’s civil remedial fees for abusive drivers could come as early as July 24 in Henrico General District Court.
Attorneys Craig Cooley and Esther Windmueller have filed a writ of prohibition seeking to bar the court clerk from collecting the fees because they are a violation of equal protection. The fees apply to Virginia residents but not to out-of-state drivers.
Cooley said he and Windmueller originally filed the writ on behalf of “all prospective clients,” but Windmueller has since been appointed to represent a client who faces imposition of the fees. Both the writ and the client’s case are on the July 24 docket.
The attorney general’s office contends that jurisdiction for the writ is in circuit court, not general district court where it is pending, Cooley said.
“I haven’t talked to a judge yet who doesn’t think it’s a violation of equal protection,” Cooley said. “I don’t know that I’ve talked to one who’s coming up for re-election.”
The fees are part of a $3 billion transportation funding package adopted by the General Assembly this year. They range from $750 to $3,000 over 26 months for such traffic-related misdemeanors and felonies as reckless driving, drunken driving and driving with a suspended operator’s license. They are expected to produce about $65 million annually.
They generated little controversy during the extended efforts to reach a compromise on highway spending but drew outrage as the effective date of July 1 due near and they received extensive publicity.