BABY ON BOARD: Restraining Order by Virginia Vice Mayor Sunny Reynolds Kneecaps Town Council Election Rival Who “Pointed His Finger at Her”; Letter to the Editor Criticizes Conduct

Posted on March 11, 2018


The administration of restraining orders is a frequent target of censure by First Amendment scholar and UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy. That’s because restraining orders may be exploited, besides as gag orders generally, as SLAPPs to suppress political speech, which the First Amendment is there to protect above all other kinds.

This post shares a letter to the editor of the Fauquier Times that was recently submitted by Virginian Nathan Larson and that concerns an injunction sought by Warrenton Vice Mayor Linda “Sunny” Reynolds, whose nickname and whose evident hypersensitivity are strikingly incongruous. “Misty” Reynolds would seem to suit her better—or maybe “Runny.”

According to the Fauquier Times, Ms. Reynolds petitioned and was granted an obviously spiteful restraining order against Warrenton real estate investor Keith Macdonald based on the allegation that he “appeared to be ‘very angry’” and “pointed his finger at her” during a public exchange about a proposed municipal development project (a library) that occurred in a restaurant where both were dining with others. Ms. Reynolds testified that Mr. Macdonald “invaded her personal space, preventing her from leaving the table.”

Not clarified in the story is whether she ever asked to be excused or made a move to rise.

One of Ms. Reynolds two female witnesses in court worked for the newspaper that reported the story. The other, Ms. Reynold’s dinner companion, Crystal McKinsey, “testified that she could tell Reynolds ‘felt very threatened by the situation and was very fearful.’” What was characterized as a harrowing confrontation transpired in a populated eatery, and there was no report that voices had even been raised.

Mr. MacDonald represented himself in court; Ms. Reynolds had an attorney.

The judge, J. Gregory Ashwell, “decided in favor of Reynolds’ petition, saying he believed Reynolds’ testimony and that of her dinner companion met the legal requirement to issue a protective order.” He offered the explanation that it was “clearly an ‘awkward interaction.’”

Mr. MacDonald, who says he intends to appeal, opposes Ms. Reynolds in an upcoming town council election.

The Fauquier Times reports “[i]t’s not clear if the final order, which will be issued by the court, will…bar Macdonald from town council meetings or town hall.”

Ms. Reynolds’ reelection campaign is titled, “Sunny, for a Voice.” Her bio identifies her as the mother of two daughters but contains no reference to a father.


By Nathan Larson

The recent article, “Judge grants Warrenton vice mayor protective order against council opponent,” shows why we need to reform Virginia’s laws concerning restraining orders.

Warrenton Vice Mayor Sunny Reynolds was able to obtain a restraining order under a statute, Code of Virginia § 19.2-152.9, that required only that she prove she had been “subjected to an act of violence, force, or threat by a preponderance of the evidence.”

This is a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard which is used in criminal court. That higher standard exists because of the principle that a person’s liberty should not be taken away without strong evidence that he broke a law. Yet without having been convicted of any crime, Reynolds’ challenger in the May election, Keith Macdonald, has been deprived of his First Amendment right to petition his government (specifically, his vice mayor) for a redress of grievances. He also has been deprived of his Second Amendment right to possess a gun.

The article says, “Reynolds also said she felt taken advantage of as the only woman member of the Warrenton Town Council.” But it will have a chilling effect on free speech if men feel they could easily be deprived of their liberty just for confronting a female elected official about her public policies and threatening to run for office against her. The voters lose out too, because now any prospect of these two candidates’ appearing together in a forum to debate issues of public interest is gone.

Mr. Larson retracted his statement about Mr. McDonald’s being denied the right to own a firearm. In Virginia, he explains, a citizen may be slapped with a restraining order for an unwanted gesture, like pointing a finger, but to be denied gun ownership, Mr. McDonald would have to have been in an “intimate” relationship with Ms. Reynolds.

Copyright © 2018

*Probably unsurprising to a reader here, Ms. Reynolds, the plaintiff in the case, called applying for a protective order, which requires filling out some forms and appearing in court for a brief hearing, “very difficult, both timewise and emotionally.” In contrast, proponents of the process argue that being publicly accused (and having one’s name indefinitely registered in local and federal police databases) is no big deal at all.