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Second circuit judge rules on abusive driver fees

A second circuit judge has upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s civil remedial fees.

Westmoreland Circuit Judge George Mason III reversed last week a ruling by Hanover General District Judge Peter L. Trible that the fees violate the Virginia and U.S. constitutions’ guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Mason heard the case after Hanover Circuit Judge John Richard Alderman disqualified himself because his father-in-law, Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr., R-Hanover, voted for the legislation.

At least three general district judges—Archer L. Yeatts III in Henrico and Thomas O. Jones in Richmond in addition to Trible—have ruled that the fees are unconstitutional. However, Henrico Circuit Judge L.A. Harris Jr. reversed Yeatts in the only published opinion so far.

Mason referred to Harris’ opinion in ruling from the bench and did not issue a written opinion.

Richmond Circuit Judge Walter W. Stout III heard arguments last week in the appeal of Jones’s ruling and indicated that he would provide a written decision.

The fees drew little attention during the 2007 General Assembly session because they were a relatively small part of a $3 billion transportation package. They require the payment of $750 to $3,000 in three installments over 26 months and are projected to generate about $65 million annually for state transportation needs.

Publicity about the fees shortly before their effective date of July 1 generated a firestorm of opposition over their high cost and their application to Virginians but not out-of-state drivers.

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