As reported here, the Office of the Attorney General (AOG) recently released a scathing report on the former Virginia Parole Board scandal from early 2020. As documented in 69 pages, the former board repeatedly broke both laws and the board’s own procedures to illegally release many prisoners convicted of violent crimes and failed to notify the victims’ families.
The statute of limitations has since expired, so no members of that board will face any legal repercussions. One of those members was Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea Sr. (D). However, the former Chair of the Board, Arianne Bennett, was later appointed to be a state judge in Virginia Beach before the parole board scandal became public knowledge.
Seeking some accountability, Del. Chris Head (R-Botetourt/Roanoke) as reported here has called on Judge Bennett to resign due to what the AOG described as a pattern of illegality and endangerment to the public.
Del. Head seems to be tapping into a large reservoir of voter ire. This frustration regards what to many appears to be a lack of accountability for political figures who do wrong and a two-tiered justice system that quickly punishes normal people but lets powerfully-connected individuals get off scot-free.
In an email to The Roanoke Star, fellow Valley House of Delegates member Joe McNamara (R-Salem/Roanoke) agrees with Del. Head’s call for Judge Bennett to resign from the bench. In his email McNamara wrote:
“The unchecked abuses by the Parole Board under Democrat control shows just how bad things get when Democrats are given the full reins of power. That is why it was so crucial that Governor Youngkin fired the Northam-McAuliffe parole board members on day one of his administration. I commend Attorney General Miyares for bringing the abuses of Judge Bennett and others to light, and it is unfortunate that the statute of limitations for legal accountability have passed. This certainly warrants evaluation of future steps to prevent parole board abuses, and when necessary, implementation of steps to improve parole board accountability.”
Del. Wren Williams (R), who represents a district including Franklin and Patrick Counties, added his agreement in an email. When asked if he supported Del. Head’s call, Williams wrote:
“Yes, I absolutely support the call for Judge Bennett to resign. During her time on the Parole Board, Judge Bennett showed a pattern of misconduct and willful disregard for the law and the Parole Board’s policies – from refusing to contact victims (including victims of rape), to falsifying reports, to unilaterally terminating parole supervision of 137 violent offenders (with an average sentence of life plus 28 years). The Attorney General’s report is nothing short of damning. Judge Bennett’s conduct is a blot on Virginia’s justice system and the judicial bench.
For the past two years, I have brought bills to bring transparency to the parole board and instances of judicial misconduct and discipline. Moving forward, the power held by Virginia’s justice system will come with accountability and transparency. We are fulfilling the promise we made to Virginians by making the system trustworthy and bringing the process into the sunlight.”
The Roanoke Star also contacted Senators John Edwards (D), David Suetterlein (R), and Delegates Salam Rasoul (D), Marie March (R), and Kathy Byron (R) for their comments but none have been received as of publication time.