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Perjury penalty overcome by restoration of rights, AG says

Two recent opinions from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli should come as a relief for a member of the Wise County School Board.

The opinions also appear to strengthen the governor’s power to restore civil rights to former felons.

Rocky Cantrell’s ability to serve as an elected school board member was called into question because of a felony perjury conviction 19 years ago. The state perjury law appeared to bar Cantrell from holding public office “forever.”

Cantrell, however, had his political rights restored by Gov. Mark Warner in 2002.

Some local officials questioned whether the governor’s power to “remove political disabilities” under the Constitution could trump the “forever” language of the perjury statute. Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins requested a formal opinion from the attorney general.

Cuccinelli believes the governor’s constitutional authority carries more weight than the language of the statute. The word “forever” as used in the perjury statute “is limited to the time before a person convicted of perjury has his political rights restored by the governor,” Cuccinelli concluded.

In a separate opinion, Cuccinelli said the governor’s restoration of rights also would permit a perjury convict to serve on juries.

Cantrell was convicted of perjury in 1993 for misstatements about his residence on election forms where he sought to run for office in the town of Pound.

Cantrell was convicted this summer of striking a county supervisor in a tussle at the county courthouse.

“I’m glad we have an answer,” Elkins said. He said Cuccinelli’s opinion is “well-reasoned,” but he said the statutory language is confusing. “It is an obvious hole in the code that needs to be plugged,” he said in an email.

Elkins said there’s logic in the “forever” language: “I find it hard to believe a person convicted of lying under oath can then take an oath to be a juror or run for office and it have any substance.”

Circuit Court Clerk Jack Kennedy, who requested the advice on jury service, said the AG’s opinion makes things easier. Clarification of the word “forever” relieves clerks  from concern about jury pools having an individual with voting rights restored after having been previously convicted of perjury.

“The only limitation appears to be the requirement to petition to restore gun rights after the governor restores civil rights,” Kennedy said in an email.

Cantrell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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