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Judge dismisses legal challenge against Hashmi over residency allegations

Person speaks into microphones
Crixell Matthews
VPM News File
State Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) speaks at a 2019 Democratic watch party.

Several Chesterfield County residents filed a petition in November alleging that Hashmi was not complying with Virginia residency requirements.

A Virginia judge on Friday dismissed a legal challenge that sought to prevent the certification of the election of a state legislator, rejecting claims that Democratic Sen. Ghazala Hashmi had not met the state's residency requirements.

Retired judge Jan L. Brodie issued the decision from the bench after an hourslong hearing in Chesterfield Circuit Court.

Several Chesterfield County residents filed a petition in November alleging that Hashmi, who was first elected in 2019 and recently won a second term, was not complying with the requirement that candidates live in the district they are seeking to represent.

In the court proceedings, both sides acknowledged that Hashmi had rented an apartment inside the confines of the Richmond-area 15th District where she was elected in November after the most recent redistricting process resulted in new political maps. But the petitioners argued she had not abandoned the longtime family home where her husband continued to live, which is located near the apartment but in a different district, the one in which Hashmi was first elected.

The petitioners, who lived near the family home, closely monitored the residence and the movements of her family's vehicles, noting that Hashmi sometimes still spent time there. They argued that Hashmi was falsifying her residency at the apartment and was therefore ineligible to serve in the General Assembly. They asked the court to prevent the Board of Elections from certifying the election, a process that’s scheduled to take place Monday.

Brodie rejected their arguments, saying that the evidence showed Hashmi had established a domicile at the apartment and that the petitioners had not met their burden of proof.

In court documents and during testimony Friday, Hashmi said she had moved furniture and personal effects into the apartment, established an office there and changed government paperwork including her voter registration and driver's license to reflect the new address. She said she spent some nights at the family home, in part to help care for her husband while he dealt with a medical issue, but that the apartment was the center of her personal and professional life.

Brodie said the petitioners — who testified about sometimes seeing Hashmi's vehicle at the family home — had not refuted that evidence.

“I am very grateful to the court for seeing this sideshow for what it was and am even more grateful that I can now fully focus on representing the families of my district,” Hashmi said in a written statement Friday.

Jeffrey Breit, one of her attorneys, said after the hearing that he was pleased the judge had both found that the petitioners lacked standing to bring the complaint and that Hashmi had established a domicile in the 15th District.

Paul Curley, an attorney for the residents who brought the petition, said the decision furthers his downward "spiral of faith in the judicial system.”

Controversies over Virginia’s residency requirements are not uncommon — others have bubbled up this cycle — though most do not result in legal challenges.

The most recent redistricting process, which was completed in 2021, created a headache for many incumbents like Hashmi. The maps, created by outside experts, were not drawn with incumbent protection in mind. Many legislators were double or tripled up in the new districts and had to decide whether to retire — many did — run against one another or move to a new district.

For incumbents who chose to move into a new district, they had to consider the boundaries of their old one as well. If they moved outside the lines, it would effectively mean resigning their seat.

Hashmi, who testified that she and her husband hope to soon buy a home in the new 15th District where they will reside together going forward, has served in the state Senate since 2020 and handily won reelection against Republican Hayden Fisher.

Brodie was appointed to hear the case after a number of local judges recused themselves, according to Curley.