Bad Blood in the Virginia Beach GOP

by James A. Bacon

I was fully prepared to believe the worst when I dipped into a Virginian-Pilot article about an indictment filed against Laura Hughes, chairwoman of the Virginia Beach Republican party. According to the Pilot, she was charged with the felony of “intercepting wire communications.” Another case of politicians behaving badly!

It has become routine for Virginia elected officials and politicos to do stupid or unethical things, and I try to acknowledge the more prominent cases so readers can see that the corruption and incompetence they observe in their hometowns are all-too-prevalent elsewhere in Virginia. But after reading the Pilot’s account, I was left scratching my head. What was this all about?

“The allegation that Ms. Hughes recorded an openly audible conversation in GOP Party headquarters with her cell phone is an absurd basis for a felony prosecution,” says a statement released by Hughes’ attorney. “There is no allegation that any recording was surreptitious or done without the knowledge of those on an open speaker phone call. Neither is there any allegation that the alleged recording was shared or even played.”

It is illegal for any person who is not a party to a communication to intentionally intercept, disclose, or use that communication without the consent of at least one involved party, reports the Pilot. The law also states it’s illegal to use any wired or wireless device to intercept such a communication.

The charges stem from a February incident, which the Pilot reconstructed as follows:

Hughes says she wanted to let people know about the filing process to run for chair. The deadline to file paperwork and a $500 check was 5 p.m. Feb. 20. She handed hers to Carol Hickman, at the party’s office, and Hickman logged it and put it in the safe, Hughes said in [a Facebook] video.

She goes on to say that she went back to the party’s office with a few other people the following day and asked to see who else had filed.

“I wanted verification of filing to see if anyone else who filed did file timely,” she said in the video.

Hughes said Hickman then went into the bathroom to have a private call with Bill Curtis, the former party chair.

“She had him on speaker phone, so it could be clearly heard,” Hughes said.

The person on the phone said he had handed his paperwork to another person who works in the office, Hughes said. She then called that person who said Curtis’ paperwork was at the office. Hughes asked to see it again but was not allowed.

Hughes said she was concerned about election integrity….

Jimmy Frost, a member of the Republican Party of Virginia Beach, corroborated the account given by Hughes in the video recording. He said he was one of the people with Hughes who went to headquarters to find out if Curtis or anyone else had filed in a timely manner in the chair’s race.

“They couldn’t really seem to produce any documentation that he had,” Frost said.

Hickman called Curtis and put him on speaker phone while they were in the office, Frost said.

“It’s dubious that there was a violation of anybody’s privacy,” he said, adding he could hear Curtis’ voice on the phone.

There do seem to be inconsistencies here. Hughes said Hickman, the office secretary, retreated to the bathroom to make the call in private… but she also said that Hickman put Curtis on speaker phone so others could hear. Well, which was it? Was the call private or not? Meanwhile, Frost said Hickman put Curtis on speaker phone while they were in the office. What happened to the bathroom?

On the other hand, so what if Hughes made a recording of the conversation? Did she misuse the recording? Who was hurt here? Was that really a felony with a potential penalty of five years in jail?

There’s always another side to a story like this, and the revelation of new facts and context could change my appraisal. Until then, as appalled as I am about the general collapse in ethics in U.S. politics today, this isn’t a case I can get exercised about. I will say this, though: if factions in the Virginia Beach Republican Party want to bash one another’s brains in, they should keep it out of the courts.

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15 responses to “Bad Blood in the Virginia Beach GOP”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    To call this a tempest in a teapot is an insult to tea.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      And pot.

  2. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Where is the "intercept" part?
    If you can't record something in public, then nothing can be reported at all ever, but it's where we are headed.
    So they went into to the bathroom to make it private, but had it on speaker! Sorry. Loser. Waste of time. Get a life.

  3. vicnicholls Avatar

    Laura is in the clear. I live here. I have a great idea of what is going on.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Sounds like what the GOP does in Va.
    there are many others… where the GOP apologies after the fact.

    It's in their hearts. They do seek forgiveness in Church I hear.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Is it fair to ask if this is how the GOP "rolls"? I just don't see a whole lot of this on the Dems side. Look at the Goode thing or Amada Chase , etc…

  6. Lefty665 Avatar

    If you don't want me to listen to it, don't play it so I can hear it. Sorta like photography, if you don't want to be photographed, don't go out in public.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Or pornography.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I saw this article earlier and engaged in a little head scratching myself. Wht surprises me is that the Commonwealth's attorney actually is prosecuting the case.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      An obliging Democrat?

  8. WayneS Avatar

    I will say this, though: if factions in the Virginia Beach Republican Party want to bash one another’s brains in, they should keep it out of the courts.

    …and the news.

  9. Theron Keller Avatar
    Theron Keller

    Along with the "one-party consent" provision there is also an expectation of privacy.

    From the description provided here, it sounds like the defendant may not have been a "party" to the call, but also no reasonable person would be able to claim an expectation of privacy, since multiple people (AND a cell phone's microphone) could apparently clearly hear the conversation. If you want your voice to be private, you have to make reasonable efforts to keep it private!

    Surely the prosecutor knows this, which raises the question, is this just the latest episode of law-fare, being waged against a disfavored person?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Might want to copy SCOTUS on this concept!

      1. Theron Keller Avatar
        Theron Keller

        Why? Assuming you are talking about the surreptitiously recorded conversations last week, has anyone asserted that they were in violation of the law? And if so, has anyone considered the different circumstances between the two situations?

        It's easy to drop a meaningless sound bite like that, but if you want to be taken seriously, do the work to make it make sense.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          simple concept. You can easily be recorded at public events. right? what else?

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