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Virginia State Senator Seeks Dismissal of Lawsuit Over ‘Baseless’ Residency Allegations

A Virginia state senator asked a court Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges her qualification to hold office over what her attorneys called “baseless” allegations that she did not meet the state’s residency requirements.

Democrat Ghazala Hashmi has served in the state Senate since 2020 and handily won reelection in a suburban Richmond district earlier this month. She said in a motion and accompanying affidavit that she moved earlier this year from the family home where her husband resides into an apartment in order to reside in the newly redrawn 15th District where she ran, satisfying the requirement that candidates live in their district.

Contrary to the claims of the lawsuit, which alleged she had not “abandoned” her family home outside the district, Hashmi said the apartment she leased in February quickly became “the center of her personal and professional life.”

Hashmi moved furniture and personal effects into the apartment, began receiving personal packages there, and changed the addresses on her driver’s license, car registrations and voter registration to reflect the address, according to the motion and supporting documentation submitted as exhibits.

She established a home office at the apartment, ate dinners there two to three times a week and hosted “numerous meetings and events” there, including a fundraiser for a fellow candidate at the apartment community’s clubhouse, according to the court filing, which included a copy of an invitation.

Hashmi also submitted copies of maintenance requests for the apartment with Wednesday’s filing.

The lawsuit against Hashmi, the state Board of Elections and Chesterfield registrar was filed by four Chesterfield County residents who live near Hashmi’s family home, which was within the bounds of the district Hashmi first represented. Virginia adopted new legislative maps when the once-a-decade redistricting process ended in December 2021.

The plaintiffs wrote in their lawsuit that Hashmi regularly parked a car overnight at the family home and used the address when making political contributions. They argued Hashmi was not satisfying the residency requirements and was therefore ineligible to serve in the General Assembly, and they asked the court to enjoin the Board of Elections from certifying the election, a process that’s scheduled to take place Monday.

In Wednesday’s filing, Hashmi wrote that she believed the petitioners had surveilled her whereabouts for part of October, when she said she was spending more time than usual at the family home as her husband dealt with medical issues that required her care.

“Since my husband’s health has improved, I have returned to spending nights at the apartment,” she wrote in the affidavit.

The political contributions were made with an account tied to the family home address, an account that’s since been updated, she said.

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

Reached by phone Wednesday evening, Paul Curley, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients brought the case because they were frustrated with “corruption in politics.”

He said he was still in the process of reviewing Wednesday’s filing. A hearing in the matter is scheduled for Friday morning.

Aaron Mukerjee, one of the attorneys representing Hashmi, said he expected the judge would quickly dismiss the case.

“We are also confident the State Board of Elections will uphold its legal obligation to certify the election for Senator Hashmi, who received over 60% of the vote in her district,” he said in a statement.

Hashmi, who ousted a Republican incumbent to win election in 2019, defeated Republican Hayden Fisher earlier this month.

Apart from what Hashmi’s attorneys claim are the false factual allegations in the residents’ complaint, Wednesday’s motion also argued that it contains “fatal legal deficiencies.” Among them, according to Hashmi’s attorneys, is that the court where the petition was filed does not have jurisdiction to hear such a post-election challenge.

Source: AP