Remember the voter registration scandal from Harrisonburg in the last election where a Republican Party of Virginia vendor drove from their victory office to a dumpster- throwing out completed voter registration forms- and then speeding off? Luckily for the voters involved there was a witness to this incident- Rob Johnson- who went outside and saw what had been thrown into his dumpster. Colin Small was later caught- and charged with felonies for destroying these voter registration forms.
Today the case went to court. Local Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst (R) chose not to hand the case to a prosecutor from a neighboring jurisdiction of a different party- something often done in Virginia when a case involves local political figures as this one does. Instead, after the initial hearing the felony charges were "dropped" and now Small will only face a misdemeanor charge.
Small's defense was he thought the people who filled out these forms were "already registered". So he drove to a random dumpster to throw them out instead of just putting them in the trash at his office? This doesn't pass the laugh test.
This is yet another case where Garst seems to be putting GOP politics above justice. We recently covered an incident in Harrisonburg where an employee of local State Senator Mark Obenshain stole a phone of a rival GOP operative and tried to break into it. Garst's office did not prosecute any crime in that case despite federal guidelines on the value of political data that would clearly indicate that stealing a phone to access that data would be a felony under Virginia law- where the value only needs to exceed $200 to be a felony. In that case Garst also chose not to allow a neighboring prosecutor to handle the case despite her close political ties to Mark Obenshain.
The City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County are quickly becoming known as an area where politically connected Republicans are above the law.
One of Garst's chief deputies is also a member of the Virginia legislature and head of the conservative caucus- Delegate Ben Cline. While it's certainly humorous to see the head of the legislative conservative caucus holding down two government jobs at once, Cline's influence on these cases is also worthy of scrutiny. Yet another reason why Garst should be sending these cases to another office to handle.
In recent cases in Albermarle County involving Supervisor Chris Dumler the local Democratic prosecutor sent them to neighboring GOP prosecutors in Fluvanna and Lynchburg. When Michael Gardner, a former Democratic Chair in Falls Church was charged with sex crimes last year, his case was sent from the Democratic Commonwealth's Attorney office in Arlington to a GOP one in Loudoun. When Loudoun Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio was put under investigation, the GOP prosecutor in Loudoun sent the case over to Arlington's Democratic office. What exactly does Marsha Garst not understand about these types of conflicts and the need to recuse herself?