by Scott Dreyer
In a bold move, Valley legislator Del. Chris Head (R-Botetourt/Roanoke) has called on controversial judge Adrianne Bennett to resign her position.
Bennett was formerly the Chair of the Virginia State Parole Board. During March and April 2020, when most people were distracted if not paralyzed by fear from the new Covid pandemic, Bennett led the Board to release an unprecedented number of prisoners and broke countless laws and procedures by doing so. As news of that scandal began to go public, The Roanoke Star ran an August 19, 2020 commentary.
However, before the news became public, Bennett resigned from the Parole Board and was appointed by the General Assembly to be a state judge in Virginia Beach, a position she still occupies. However, for unknown reasons, Judge Bennett has recently not been hearing cases or presiding over trials.
On January 25 of this year, as reported here, the Office of Attorney General (OAG) Jason Miyares (R) released a 69-page report on the prisoner release scandal including recommendations to make sure such illegal acts never happen again.
Of pertinence to Southwest Virginia, Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea Sr. (D) was a member of the now-disgraced board that Gov. Youngkin (R) fired en masse on his first day of office. Mayor Lea has still not responded to The Roanoke Star for any comment or explanation relative to his role in what transpired on the committee while it was under Judge Bennett’s direction.
Now a second Valley legislator is making headlines regarding the scandal. In the case of House of Delegates member and State Senate candidate Chris Head, he is seeking to hold former Board Chair Bennett accountable. A reading of the OAG report indicates that, out of the entire Board, Chair Bennett seems to bear most of the responsibility for the illegalities that took place.
Head addressed this issue in a speech in the House of Delegates on January 27 and in a radio interview on The John Reid Show on WRVA on February 1.
Since the statute of limitations has passed, Judge Bennett cannot be held legally responsible for her illegal conduct. However, Head points out she should not remain in her position as a judge. “We can’t have anybody like this on the bench,” Head told Reid’s audience.
In keeping with the guiding principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, legislatures are entrusted with the power to impeach and remove from office members of the executive and judicial Branches. However, in order to keep that step from becoming easy or a handy tool for political retribution, the procedure is lengthy and difficult. As a result, successful impeachments and removal from office have been rare in U.S. history.
For example, Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump have all been impeached, but none have been removed from office.
In a January 27 Press Release, Del. Head called on Judge Bennett to resign her judgeship, in order to spare herself, the General Assembly, and the entire state the slow and embarrassing procedure of an impeachment.
Head explained that the General Assembly members needed to read the Attorney General’s report before commenting. However, having read it, Head said, “This report is horrifying. There’s a reason it runs on for as long as it does. There were many, many things deeply wrong at the Virginia Parole Board before Governor Youngkin cleaned house. Some particularly egregious things that stand out to me are the lack of regard for victims. For example, when a rapist was to be released on parole, then Chair Adrianne Bennett made her own personal policy to not contact the victims despite what the law said.”
In the OAG report, one former aide of Bennett claimed in an interview that Chair Bennett would “make up” policies that were “convenient.” That aide remarked to state investigators: “I just know the way that Adrienne worked and she would kind of make up her own rules as she went along.”
To date, it is unknown if any of the other 139 members of the General Assembly have joined the call for Judge Bennett to resign.
The Roanoke Star has reached out to other Roanoke-area members of the General Assembly to ask if they have a statement about this position. Those legislators include Democrats Sen. John Edwards and Del. Salam “Sam” Rasoul, and Republicans Sen. David Suetterlein and Del. Joe McNamara.
Del. Head’s Feb. 1 interview on the John Reid Show on WRVA can be heard here.
Video of Del. Head’s Jan. 27 speech in the House of Delegates on this topic can be seen here.
This story was first published in The Roanoke Star and is republished with permission.