Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Come see us at the Sweet 300

I had a call last week from a lady who agreed to send me a document if I told her the address, and she wrote down exactly what I said. The envelope reads: "110 Piedmont Avenue, Sweet 300." Life is good upstairs in the Sweet 300.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On the news that Judge Wilson will soon retire

The Roanoke Times reports here that Judge Samuel G. Wilson of the W.D. Va. will be retiring August 1, 2014. I have written here not too long ago about trying one last case before him in Big Stone Gap. Before that trial, I saw him at the Judicial Conference in 2011 and told him I was getting married and taking on a bunch of girls. "It's a good thing you ran into me," he said, and proceeded to give me his advice on dealing with teenage daughters. When I saw him again in 2013 I told him his advice had been timely and accurate. He laughed. I remembered him talking about a daughter in 1995, when we were waiting for a jury and telling stories to kill time during a trial in Big Stone Gap, when John Brownlee was one of his law clerks - and now I could relate, completely. Good luck, and thanks.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

How to make Yelp come across

In Yelp, Inc., v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, the Court of Appeals in an opinion by Judge Petty, joined by Judge Frank with Senior Judge Haley dissenting in part, upheld a civil contempt finding against online review site Yelp for failure to disclosure identifying information of some reviewers. The opinion is pretty free-ranging, with a lengthy Shakespeare quote, lots of legislative history, discussion of case law from other states - completely at odds with the Virginia Supreme Court style from before 2000 that I described in the prior post. In the dissent, Judge Haley gets to the nub of what strikes me as the peculiarity of the case - the failure to state a cause of action. You can't sue a bunch of John Does for falsely claiming to be customers posting negative reviews and then go looking for evidence, the John Does if anyone of them were actual named persons would have had the case dismissed before the subpoena was enforced. Even so, this opinion is chock full of information about how to proceed to get information of this kind.

Blackstone and you

I read with interest Judge Kelsey's article in the current VBA Journal about the current relevance of the common law of England, in which he addresses and contradicts various criticisms of the application of the English common law as precedent in Virginia, and cites a list of recent cases in which the common law was prominent in the bases for decision.

The list of recent cases included Wyatt v. McDermott and Jenkins v. Mehra, among others. I recall reading these when they came out and thinking how strange that they turned to such a significant degree on the common law when they seemed to be in areas of the law where the legislature has acted in considerable detail. In Wyatt, the Supreme Court concluded that there was a common law writ for interference with the relationship between parent and child, or close enough, while recognizing that there are many differences in the law as it is today. To me, the many differences swallow up the similarities, and the incorporation of medieval concepts of the status of children is and was unwarranted, and the dissenters seemed to have the better view. In Jenkins, the Court found that the legislature had not spoken clearly enough to overrule the common law on a point of appellate procedure, of all things. The Constitution of Virginia gives the legislature the exclusive power to define appellate jurisdiction, there is no appellate jurisdiction except by way of legislative enactment, and so it seems a rare thing that the legislature is limited by the common law.

In Jenkins and in Wyatt, the Court referenced opinions from other states in explaining the common law rule. For a long time, I thought the Virginia Supreme Court was particular hostile to authority from other states, or even more so from the federal courts. I often suspected that part of the reason for this was the view that there is a fish in the sea for every taste, when searching through case law - there are conflicting precedents within and among the several states. The federal courts often get it wrong in guessing what is the law of Virginia, much less what the Virginia Supreme Court will think was the law of England in 1607. Certain justices I can picture in my mind's eyes seemed to relish the idea that only way to get a case right was to look to the opinions of the Virginia Supreme Court.

At least, with the internet, it is surely easier now than it was in 1800 to research the common law. You can read Blackstone's Commentaries on your mobile device for free. There might even be an app for that.

For those who find these topics interesting, there is a session titled "Democracy of the Dead: The Relevance of Legal History in Modern Litigation” on the agenda for the winter meeting of The Virginia Bar Association in Williamsburg later this month.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The awesomeness of Twitter on the AG vote count developments

If you are not doing it, you should be following the back and forth over the adjustments to the vote totals including what Ben Tribbett @notlarrysabato, Dave Wasserman @redistrict, and others, particularly in regard to the "missing" Fairfax County absentee ballots described here (in the Washington Post) that if "found" would likely carry the day for Democratic candidate Mark Herring who otherwise still is trailing the Republican Mark Obenshain. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

On trying a case before Judge Wilson

Last week's trial in Big Stone Gap was before Judge Samuel G. Wilson, who came on the bench of the Western District of Virginia in 1990, while my clerkship was still going on, and so I met him at that time. When I went to work in Bristol, we had a case against the United Mine Workers, that went to trial twice before Judge Wilson, with Jim Vergara on the other side. In 1995, I tried the Wise County Electoral Board case before Judge Wilson, against Ed Stout and Jerry Gray. Some other time we had the MSHA employees case before Judge Wilson, with Don Huffman on the other side, and then an auto accident case in Roanoke where I represented a fellow from the Netherlands before Judge Wilson, with B.L. Conway and Zane Dale Christian for the plaintiff. Those were all interesting cases because of the people involved and the back and forth in the courtroom, and I have to laugh at the preposterous level of detail with which I can recall them all. Not everyone gets to try a civil case before a jury in federal court, much less seven before the same judge. Strangely, I still think of Judge Wilson as sort of a "new" judge and myself as sort of a "new" lawyer still learning the ways things are, despite the twenty-some years of our acquaintance. Last week's trial was not one for the record books, the details might soon be forgotten but the part I will remember was from after the verdict at the tippy tail end of the case, when one of the Marshals was upset that some people in the gallery refused to stand. The judge sent the jury on their way, then stood up and gave a little speech that has stuck in my head. One side is always upset with a jury's verdict, he said. We don't stand when the bailiff cries "all rise" at the end of a case because we believe there has been perfect justice. What we honor is the pursuit of justice, through this jury system we have that is the best system there is, however imperfect. So, he concluded, he would not punish them for protesting this particular verdict, if that was what they wanted to do, but he wanted them to know that it was earnest quest for justice that makes our justice system worthy of respect. Or that's the gist of what I heard. It was a unique courtroom moment, memorable and unexpected. Probably I won't try another case before Judge Wilson, the odds are against it, but I am grateful for all I have learned in court with him and from him, including in Big Stone Gap last week.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Classmate in the running for Tennessee Supreme Court

One of my William & Mary classmates, Steve Mulroy, is a candidate for the Tennessee Supreme Court. His resume is here. At one time there were Steve Marshall, Steve Minor, Steve Mister, Steve Morris, and Steve Mulroy in all of the same sections in our first year in law school.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

On the passing of Judge Karen Williams

I read here that Judge Karen Williams died at her home on Saturday, at age 62. Judge Williams served on the Fourth Circuit. She sat on almost all of the panels for the cases with the best outcomes I ever had anything to do with in appellate practice - the Arnold case, the Terwilliger case, the Cooper case, the Wiley case. I liked everything about her, like a groupie.