Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross dismissed criminal trespassing charges against Rich Collins, WINA reports, and I couldn’t be more surprised about it.
Collins was arrested while campaigning for House of Delegates in May of last year after he refused to leave Shoppers World. He maintained that it was public property, while the complex’ manager begged to differ. Criminal charges were filed against him, and he filed a civil suit against the shopping center. Collins was convicted a year ago this month, much to his pleasure, since he hoped to appeal the case clear up to the Virginia Supreme Court and get the law changed. (The judge said that he’d have ruled in favor of Collins were he on the state’s highest court, but felt that his hands were tied at the level of his court.) He and his lawyers — from the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute — believe that private property that is provided for substantially public purposes, such as shopping centers, have an obligation to let people express themselves freely, given appropriate time, place, and manner requirements.
I’m certainly no attorney, but I believe that the ruling would need to be appealed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney (Jim Camblos, assuming that Shopper’s World is in the county) in order to proceed up the appeals chain. This, of course, is just the criminal case — I believe that the civil case is ongoing.
10:15pm Update: The Hook has more useful, complete information on their blog.