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The Virginia magistrate system allows citizens to bring criminal charges against one another — and that's just what is happening to Portsmouth City Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, who has been accused of a misdemeanor violation of the city charter. How is this possible, and what does it mean for Portsmouth?
Portsmouth citizen Tommy Dubois, who brought the charges against Lucas-Burke, argued to a magistrate judge that Lucas-Burke violated the Portsmouth city charter when she advocated for the firing of the town's police chief. The charter charges the city manager with hiring and firing employees of the city. A court summons was issued to the Vice Mayor for her alleged interference in the dismissal process.
Dubois reportedly got the idea to file charges against Lucas-Burke from a Facebook group, which opposes Lucas-Burke's mother, Virginia Senator Louise Lucas (D). Sen. Lucas has been under scrutiny in recent months since local police brought charges against her and other local activists and leaders for their roles in a protest at which a confederate statue was toppled. Lucas did not play a role in the statue's destruction.
Both of the Lucas women are successful Black women serving in public office, which some say motivates the attacks on them. Sen. Lucas, described as "the most prominent African American woman in Virginia politics," recently championed legislation that would target systemic racism in law enforcement.
Dubois, who is white, says that his charges against Vice Mayor Lucas-Burke are not racially motivated. If Lucas-Burke is found guilty of the charges, she will lose her vice mayor position but not face jail time.
Regardless of how the magistrate case is decided, tensions are clearly coming to a head in Portsmouth. With conversations about racism in America becoming more frequent, this may not be the only legally weird case to come.