Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Write to your attorney general

In today's speech, the new Virginia Attorney General said, among other things:

"I will be seeking input from across the legal community. I want to hear the best ideas of the various bars, mandatory and voluntary, in the Commonwealth. I want to hear from the deans of our law schools. And I want to hear from the justices of our appellate courts. This is Virginia’s law firm, and I want Virginia’s legal community to, together, make it better and more effective."

On the racial makeup of juries in the W.D. Va.

In U.S. v. Drayton, the issue before Magistrate Judge Sargent was this:

"The defendant, who is black or African American, argues that, cognizant of a great disparity in the racial demographics of the Abingdon and Roanoke Divisions, the government intentionally brought this matter in the Abingdon Division in an effort to exclude blacks or African Americans from the jury pool and, thus, from the jury itself."

The motion was denied, since the defendant could not show intent to discriminate.

Once in my life I have exercised a peremptory strike against a black member of the jury pool, after he had tried every way in the world to get out of the case during voir dire, stating in fairly stark terms that he was biased in favor of the other side. The judge would not strike him for cause, but opposing counsel laughed later, "I think your strikes are safe from constitutional challenge."

The next big Southwest Virginia DNA case

The Roanoke paper reports here that DNA testing is being used to nail the suspect in the Town of Appalachia voting fraud case, on which Tim McAfee is the special prosecutor.

The plan is to see whose saliva was used on the envelope used to send in an absentee ballot.

In the office here, I discovered some years ago that we have a little gadget with a sponge on it, sort of like this, to be used in place of licking envelopes. I had not previously thought of it as as mechanism for avoiding identification - sort of an envelope glue anonymizer.

On the passing of my former client Buck the dog

I am informed that my sister's dog Buck was struck by a car and died a few days ago. He was 14, almost as old as our dog Chrissy, older than Joan's younger two children.

When Joan lived in Washington County, a neighboring farmer accused Buck and one of their other dogs of killing a cow. Charges were brought under the county dog ordinance, and I went to "dog court" (the docket for county cases, prosecuted by the county attorney). In theory, the stakes were high - a dog found to have destroyed livestock could be ordered killed or banished from the County.

We settled with the farmer, but I was more than willing to vouch for the sterling character, reputation, and demeanor of Buck, who was just about as likely to kill a cow as I would be.

I have no picture of him, but the image I have is of him walking around Joan's house, and when I asked where he was going, Joan's explanation was something like, "oh, he's afraid there might be some cats in there, so he's going somewhere else."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Know thyself

So said Thales, or perhaps it was the Oracle at Delphi.

In this Boston Herald report, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts acknowledge that "he himself probably couldn’t pass Judiciary Committee muster," at the same time he vowed to dissociate himself from a club that discriminates against women.

Monday, January 16, 2006

That Civil War "public" documents case

S.C. Appellate Blog posts here and Southern Appeal posts here on the case of the Confederate-era documents. A bankruptcy court ruled that they were "public documents," but now the district court has ruled that they aren't, and so the State of South Carolina may have to appeal the case to the Fourth Circuit.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Coal vs. gas in West Virginia

Sunday's Charleston Gazette had this very interesting article titled "Turf war shaping up between coal, gas" on disputes between coal interests and gas interests in West Virginia.

On Philip Hirschkop has this wild profile of Virginia lawyer Philip Hirschkop, retiring at age 69, and most famous for his role in the Loving case.

The article says in part:

"In one six-year span, 17 disciplinary complaints were brought against him at the Virginia State Bar -- a distinction Hirschkop bears proudly. The complaints, he says, were 'never for screwing a client -- only for making public statements' about pending litigation."

The articles also says:

"He also donned a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots to win the acquittal of Texas oil magnates Nelson Bunker Hunt and W. Herbert Hunt in a federal wiretapping case.

The decision to represent the archconservative oilmen was a tough one for Hirschkop, says John Kenneth Zwerling, an Alexandria lawyer whose wedding Hirschkop had officiated at while wearing a coonskin cap. 'The [Hunt brothers] bought him a membership in the John Birch Society,' he says. 'And he bought them a membership in the ACLU.'

The Hunt brothers and other famous clients helped provide Hirschkop with the kind of money a radical lawyer could only dream of, especially 30 years ago. In his best years, Hirschkop says, he's earned well above $1 million."

More on Billy Wagner and Southwest Virginia

With the move of Southwest Virginian Billy Wagner to New York City, you see more articles like this one from the New York Daily News, which begins:

"Billy Wagner is from a lot of places. You are on the road to one of them, in southwest Virginia, where breathtaking views and crushing poverty are in a dead heat, and where Wagner once was bounced around as if he were the family Spaldeen.

You leave the town of Tazewell and turn left at Frog Level, and pass through Thompson Valley, not far from Criggers and Pucketts Store. You climb up mountains, and switchback your way down the backside. You ride by a field with scores of brightly colored barrels, each with a rooster on top, a cock-fighting breeding camp. You go alongside a meandering creek, and see red dirt and grazing cows in sloping valleys.

Seventeen miles beyond Frog Level, you finally get to Tannersville, a hamlet of 392 people and six roads, a dozen miles from the nearest supermarket. Ten people come into the post office, and that's on a busy day, says Evelyn Barton, the postmaster. A faded wooden sign by the volunteer fire house welcomes you to 'The Home of Billy Wagner.' In Tazewell, where Wagner starred in football and baseball for Tazewell High, a fancier sign also claims the town as his home."

A commentary on the Coleman case

Kerry Dougherty has this harsh commentary in Saturday's Norfolk paper titled Supporters of dead killer can eat crow at DNA result.

Latest commentary from Judge Humphrey

Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Robert Humphrey has this commentary titled Colonial Vestige: Anglo-American System Requires Competent Judges, Lawyers, Juries in today's Richmond paper.

He says in part:

"Judges must be selected and retained based on their knowledge of the law and an even-handed demeanor in enforcing it; the bench and bar must insist that lawyers conduct themselves professionally and quickly and firmly sanction those who do not; and, finally, citizens must be willing to take their obligation to serve on juries seriously. Our society depends on these things because the only alternatives to a vibrant and effective court system are anarchy and violence."

On the hazards of a coal miner's work

The Media General papers' Rex Bowman penned this article titled Miners aware of job's dangers, with interviews of SW Virginia coal miners on the hazards of their profession.

Lately it seems that I talk to people in and around the coal business almost every day. Each of them has recalled underground accidents that happened to them or people they know.

Here is a link to a paper from 1987 titled "A Hundred Years of Mining Explosions in Southwest Virginia."