The Wise County prosecutor’s office has partially withdrawn a circuit court motion involving gun rights that created a flurry of controversy days before the November election of Virginia’s top three officials.
On Jan. 4, Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Steven Davis filed a motion to withdraw a request to subpoena Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson regarding restoration of civil rights for five convicted felons.
A convicted felon can petition a local circuit court to restore his or her gun rights only after the governor has restored civil rights.
McAuliffe had restored the men’s civil rights, including the right to vote and hold office. However, Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp asserted that the governor used a flawed process, causing several people who should not have guns to petition for the right to possess them.
Slemp’s office filed the subpoena petition on Oct. 28, seeking information about the restoration of the men’s rights that would inform the court sufficiently to determine whether they should be allowed to possess guns. Slemp argued that his office asked the men questions in the pre-trial discovery process that they refused to answer, forcing him to seek the right to subpoena McAuliffe, Northam and Thomasson.
In the Jan. 4 motion, Davis explained that four of the five men have now provided sufficient information in discovery to meet their obligations. However, he asked the court to take under advisement the subpoena motion with regard to one local man who has not yet complied with discovery.
The subpoena motion became controversial because it was filed days before an election in which voters chose Northam as the next governor. Richard Kennedy, the attorney for three of the convicted felons, filed an Oct. 28 motion of objection, claiming that Slemp, a Republican, was “utilizing the judicial process to affect the current gubernatorial election; especially by issuing an illegitimate subpoena to the Lieutenant Governor who of course just coincidentally happens to be the Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial election.”
Kennedy noted that the lieutenant governor lacks the authority to restore civil rights and Northam was not involved in court cases that challenged McAuliffe’s rights restoration actions.
On Oct. 31, Slemp filed a brief that denied allegations of political motives and focused on criminal activity by the felons that he believes disqualifies them from gun ownership.