Thursday, December 30, 2010

On snow days

In the winter, I hear talk about schools cancelling classes because of snow.

One part of that discussion is that school officials are afraid of liability. In Virginia, the liability of school employees and school boards for simple negligence is limited by sovereign immunity and the school bus insurance statute, Va. Code 22.1-194, as Judge Wilson held in this opinion granting a motion to dismiss claims against individuals related a school bus accident in Botetourt County.

Another part of the discussion is what is the effect of school days on learning. The answer according to this article is that school days cause lower test scores.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Media General article on Justice Kinser

I finally got around to checking out the fine article on Justice Kinser, who is becoming the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. It seems like not so long ago that she joined the Supreme Court, yet with the retirement of Justice Koontz, all the other justices have less tenure than she does, but for current Chief Justice Hassell.

One fact in the article that I had never heard was that Judge Samuel G. Wilson of the W.D. Va. was one who urged her to apply for the Supreme Court position in 1997, but then Judge Wilson was U.S. Magistrate at the time when Justice Kinser was clerking for Judge Williams, and so perhaps they have known each other for many years.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Whatever works

In this VLW post, a Virginia legislator is cited for the proposition that the Governor proposed taking money from the Virginia State Bar to fund judgeships because the Virginia State Bar complained about the lack of funding for judgeships.

There ought to be a constitutional amendment that says the legislators are thrown out and barred from public office if they don't pass a budget and fill all the judgeships, in every session. Having said that, it is hard to imagine that the VSB surplus could be spent on anything more important.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Enzyte and the warrantless search (or is it seizure?) of e-mail

The Sixth Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Warshak that the Fourth Amendment prohibited federal law enforcement from obtaining the defendant's e-mails from his internet service provider without a warrant. The case is a big deal to legal scholars, and is also interesting because the defendant was the owner of the company that puts on those late night ads with Smilin' Bob.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The FRCP amendments

The latest amendments to Rules 26 and 56 went into effect on December 1. The Rule 26 amendment limits the discoverability of draft reports by expert witnesses. The Rule 56 amendment is supposedly only procedural. Rule 56(b) specifies a default deadline for filing summary judgment motions, as 30 days after the close of all discovery. The typical scheduling order in the W.D. Va. shortens that period. It requires parties to cite to particular parts of the record to show the absence or presence of a genuine dispute of material fact, which seems odd. It says the Court can rely only on cited materials, or may use other parts of the record. It allows the Court to grant summary judgment for non-movants, on notice to the parties.

A further explanation of the rationale for the changes to the Rules is contained in this excerpt.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judge Hudson strikes down health insurance mandate

I've read Com. v. Sebelius, and what struck me on the first reading was that Judge Hudson seemed to say that if the Congress and the Administration had characterized the individual insurance mandate as a revenue measure from the get-go, the outcome might have been different. "In concluding that Congress did not intend to exercise its powers of taxation under the General Welfare Clause, the Court's analysis begins with the emphatic denials by the Executive and Legislative branches that [the penalty for not buying health insurance] was a tax," Judge Hudson wrote.

In other words, by hedging on the extent to which the penalty for failure to buy health insurance was an outright money grab by the United States, the proponents of the scheme forfeited a potential basis for upholding its constitutionality.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

On the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate

GMU law professor Ilya Somin has this take on the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate, which concludes if nothing else that the challenges to the mandate are not frivolous and what the law requires is something new, for which there is no binding precedent upholding its legality. Professor Barnett from GULC has this paper that concludes the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

By contrast, in this Bristol paper article about the lawsuit against the health insurance mandate filed by Gil Davis and Strother Smith on behalf of Smith, Tucker Davis and others, W & L law professor Tim Jost describes the claim as frivolous.

There is a website devoted to the litigation of this issue, called Health Care Lawsuits.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Court of appeals' "digital brief" guidelines

I read with some interest the "digital brief package" from the Virginia Court of Appeals. What is required is something quite different from the ordinary files we print to PDF and upload to federal court every day.

I enjoyed particularly the checklist of reasons for rejecting the digital briefs, such as "Paper Brief was not the same Brief on the CD."

Another part of what makes this interesting is that the Court evidently requires digital briefs, yet there is apparently no reference to such a requirement in the Rules, which were just amended - unlike in Rule 5:26(e), which says "(e) Copies for Filing. One electronic version, in Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) format, must be filed with the clerk of this Court and served on opposing counsel, unless excused by this Court for good cause shown."

In my opinion, most Virginia lawyers either lack the software necessary to insert bookmarks into PDF files or would not know how. I sometimes insert bookmarks to navigate around complaints and long contracts that other people send me.

The cheaper than Adobe Acrobat alternative software that I use is called NitroPDF, which is $99 as opposed to $299 for Acrobat 9 standard or $499 for Acrobat 9 pro. I think it could do what is required but I guess I'll send the work to one of the print shops in Richmond.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

She said yes

Elliott Lawson & Minor is announcing this week that Dawn Figueiras has joined the ownership of the firm.

This is a great thing, as she is one of the best lawyers and best people I know.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Justice Carrico

This article from the Richmond paper on Chief Justice Carrico of the Virginia Supreme Court at age 94 includes some interesting views on his five decades as a justice, chief justice, and senior justice. The article suggests that his most famous opinion as a justice was in the Loving case, affirming Virginia's ban on inter-racial marriage, the case that was then reversed by the United States Supreme Court, but that he makes no apology for applying the law as he found it at that point in time.

On sentencing in the W.D. Va.

The Roanoke Times had this interesting article on the role of the federal probation office in federal sentencing in Western District of Virginia cases. It quotes among others Judge Conrad and Judge Turk - and Paul Dull, distinguished graduate of the Appalachian School of Law and a fine fellow. The occasion for the article was the fuss raised by defense counsel in a case where the confidential part of a pre-sentence report was accidentally made available to him.

Wait, do I still have some of these?

The Virginia Gazette reports here on a William & Mary grad who returned an overdue book he checked out from the Williamsburg library in 1975. He told the library his lawyer had advised him to turn himself in. There was no fine since the library's records did not go back so far.

He said it.

"The judiciary acts as a ballast on our ship of state, and it prevents the ship from being wrecked on the reefs of inappropriate judgment, and should not be steered by the whims of hysterical opinion."

- Judge Burton Roberts, quoted today in his obituary in the New York Times.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unusually high quality briefs lead to reprimand

Via this ABA Journal article, I saw this opinion about a lawyer who was sanctioned for plagiarizing page after page of an article and filing it as his own briefs.

The opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court says the trial court judge got suspicious having found the briefs to be of "unusually high quality," which surely is better than a plagiarized brief of unusually low quality but unethical nonetheless under the circumstances of this case.

The Court explained:

"We recognize that the term "plagiarism" is something of a scarlet letter that imposes a brand on a wide variety of behaviors. We do not believe our ethical rules were designed to empower the court to play a "gotcha" game with lawyers who merely fail to use adequate citation methods. This case, however, does not involve a mere instance of less than perfect citation, but rather wholesale copying of seventeen pages of material. Such massive, nearly verbatim copying of a published writing without attribution in the main brief, in our view, does amount to a misrepresentation that violates our ethical rules."

Monday, October 11, 2010

On the ethics of fake friending

An ethics committee for the Bar of the New York City Bar has concluded, unsurprising, that it is unethical for a lawyer to pretend to be someone else to become your friend on Facebook in order to get at your secrets.

The opinion concludes:

"Rather than engage in 'trickery,' lawyers can -- and should -- seek information maintained on social networking sites, such as Facebook, by availing themselves of informal discovery, such as the truthful 'friending' of unrepresented parties, or by using formal discovery devices such as subpoenas directed to non-parties in possession of information maintained on an individual’s social networking page. Given the availability of these legitimate discovery methods, there is and can be no justification for permitting the use of deception to obtain the information from a witness on-line."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When does $74,139.24 exclusive of interest and costs exceed $75,000

In Merial Limited v. Rasnic, Judge Sargent concluded that a claim for $74,139.24 satisfied the amount in controversy requirement under 28 U.S.C. 1332, which gives the federal courts subject matter jurisdiction of certain "civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs."

Back when I was law clerk, Judge Williams dealt with something similar in the case of Allstate v. Brown, 736 F. Supp. 705 (W.D. 1990), where the insurer brought a declaratory judgment related to the defendant's suit in state court, in which the claim was for precisely the jurisdictional amount. Judge Williams unlike some federal judges was always a big fan of diversity cases, and decided in favor of federal court jurisdiction in the Brown case.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The last to know

I finally noticed that the website of the W.D. Va. indicates that the Chief Judge is now Judge Glen Conrad, right next to where it says that Julie Dudley is the Clerk.

Judge Jones (like Jack Nicklaus) was born in 1940. Under 28 U.S.C. 136, no district judge gets to act as chief judge beyond the age of 70 if there are others who qualify to be chief judge.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On twenty years with Crohn's disease

In 1990, I was about to get married, and I knew there was something wrong with me, but didn't know what. I went to see old Dr. Shaffer, who referred me to a gastroenterologist, who figured out that I have Crohn's disease, and who has been my good friend and doctor for twenty years. The Crohn's diagnosis was more than confirmed in November 1996 or thereabouts when a Bristol surgeon removed eighteen inches of bad guts, that were tormenting me.

Over the years, I've taken some medicines that were gentle and did nothing, steroids that made me gain a pound day, other medicines that say on the label they can kill me, I've endured iron shots with the big needle, given myself B-12 shots with the little needles, munched on chewable children's vitamins, shared yogurt with my dogs almost every day. So far I've taken a pass on Remicade and Humira; maybe I get too many advertisements for plaintiff's products liability seminars.

Probably the last 150 pizzas have given me cause for regret, but I'll eat one every now and then. Green peppers, raw onions, orange juice, chocolate, bearnaise and hollandaise are all taboo, but I break bad and have some sometimes. My weight has fluctuated between 145 and 205, and so there are both fat boy and skinny man suits in my closet. I eat too fast, and often have dessert. On the upside, my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are no problem at all.

I've met some lawyers and witnesses with the same problem, and they are always relieved to find out what we have common. "Oh, I don't have to tell you about it," they say - about for example the perils of sitting around in a deposition for hours. Say, I flew to Europe and back a couple of times, imagine that. They could. One of my cousins has it. She and her lawyer husband Steve just flew to China and back to meet their new baby. When I heard this news, I thought about that plane ride.

I've been to a few meetings where the stomach rumblings were so loud I was surprised they were not made a part of the official minutes. ("... and Mr. Minor said grklbklmrkmogl.") One such occasion was at a VBA board meeting, when I was seated by Cheshire Eveleigh, who merely turned and gave me her broadest, crinkliest smile, leaving me no choice but to smile back. In this (and all matters, by the way), I recommend following her example.

A lot of my lawyer buddies or courthouse friends or even clients whom I see just every once in a while keep me up to date on how I'm doing, or at least whether I look better or worse than the last time they saw me. My assistant generally schedules my hearings and depositions for the afternoons, since the mornings are the iffiest part of the day (and I was a night owl even before). When I heard that a friend of mine's son was diagnosed with Crohn's, I said tell him it hasn't been fun but it hasn't held me back from doing what I wanted and going places. There are still some days though when the bad guts flat out betray me, like last November, and today, which gave me the notion to write this post.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Last night of Bluefield Orioles baseball, after 53 years

As reported here, tonight is the last home game of the Bluefield Orioles, ever.

The Bluefield Orioles figured prominently in a famous opinion by Judge Williams of the W.D. Va.

Justice Kinser to be the next Chief Justice

The Virginia Supreme Court has announced the selection of Justice Kinser as the next Chief Justice.

Justice Kinser clerked for Judge Williams, along with George Allen, who appointed her to the Supreme Court, after she had served for some years as magistrate judge for the W.D. Va. She was sworn in as a member of the Virginia Supreme Court in a memorable ceremony at the Lee High School in 1997, and many of the readers of this blog were there, as I was.

The funniest story I ever heard her tell was about the time she sat on a writ panel and some idiot lawyer (my words, not hers) kept addressing her as "Justice Lacy." She said nothing, but the lawyer persisted. Finally, unable to take it any longer, Chief Justice Carrico told the lawyer that in fact his colleague was Justice Kinser, not Lacy, whereupon the lawyer squinted up at the bench and said, "oh, you've changed your hair."

Justice Kinser is a soft-spoken, congenial person, who has been a free thinker on the Court, writing a fair share of separate opinions, including for example her dissent in Almy v. Grisham, with which I agree completely, no matter what the other six justices thought.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Two other college football favorites

A few of my other college football favorites:

1. Sharon Randall's account of taking her brother to a Clemson game, that starts off like this:

"Blind all his life, he has never seen a thing -- not a sunset or a baby's smile or even the nose on my face. Yet he often seems to "see" things the rest of us tend to miss -- things that light him up and make him smile in his own private delight.

You can always tell when he is especially happy because he flicks his hand back and forth really fast as if he's fanning off a big swarm of flies.

Joe's a huge fan of Clemson football. He wouldn't miss a game on the radio for anything -- not even, I suspect, to throw water on his sister if she burst, God forbid, into flames. But he had never been to a game.

So my husband, who is still new to the family and has a lot to learn, suggested that we fly to South Carolina, pick Joe up in Spartanburg, and take him to Death Valley to watch Clemson beat the fur off Furman, so to speak.

"What do you think of that?" I said, when I called my brother to tell him my husband's idea.

"Sister," he said, "I think you married a good man."

In the background, I heard his hand flicking up a storm.

Then I wrote a column about planning to take him to a game and I started hearing from all sorts of Clemson fans, who offered to give us their seats, if need be, and agreed that I had indeed married a good man."

2. Since I took a new member of the Highty-Tighties to Blacksburg a couple of weeks ago, I wonder whether he or his mother or his sister have any idea what the football team's entrance is like.

3. This post and this post and this post include some details about my own football-watching adventures, including hearing the prayer in Death Valley for "those who play, those who watch, and those who do push-ups in the end zone."

College football, for Jill and Joy Lee

This still tickles me, especially "we had some might good dogs." "Condredge Holloway hopping out of an ambulance to return to the UCLA game" in 1974 is about as far back as I go.
SRM, 8/30/2010.

Here's my alltime favorite piece of writing about college football in Tennessee. Probably I posted it last year and will again next year, until the IP police tell not to do it any more:

It's Football Time in Tennessee
by Jake Vest -- Orlando Sentinel -- Jake Vest is the creator of the comic strip That's Jake.

Re-printed in Knoxville News-Sentinel January 14, 1996

I grew up just down the river from Knoxville's Neyland Stadium in the poor direction -- out toward the rock quarries, dairy farms and tobacco patches.

On a crisp mid-October Saturday you could climb a hill, and if the wind was just right, you could hear the rich people booing Bear Bryant and the Tide.

I spent a lot of time climbing those hills and listening.

Football was the second favorite sport out in the greater Forks of the River metropolitan area, right behind squirrel hunting -- which you didn't need a ticket to do.

Sometimes the squirrel hunters would carry transistor radios so they could listen in on John Ward, the Voice of the Vols, calling the shots for that other sport. If Tennessee was driving for a score, there would be a general, temporary cease-fire.

Now that is devotion. Anything that gets a Tennesseean's mind off hunting is something special.

If it was a particularly big game, even the dogs would stop barking. They knew Ward's voice, and they could tell when he was getting serious, a fact that may seem like a stretch to some but you've got to remember we had some mighty good dogs.

Out in my part of the woods, an affection for the Big Orange was something you took up early in life and held onto.

One of my first memories is of sitting on the front porch in a swing with my grandfather, that's Pappaw in East Tennessean, listening on the radio to Tennessee play Ole Miss. That was back in the days when the forward pass was considered an alternative lifestyle, something you did if you weren't man enough to play real football, and both teams rushed about 300 times for a total of about 150 yards.

Every time Ole Miss would gain a step, Pappaw would cuss and spit tobacco juice. By halftime, the side yard looked like an oil spill.

What's most remarkable about this is that I don t think Pappaw had any notion of what a football game was. It wasn't mentioned in the Bible, so he had no reason to have ever read about it; and he sure had never attended a game. He had no idea what those Mississippians were doing. But he knew they were doing it to us. And he was against it. He never set foot in the University of Tennessee campus in his life, but he was a Vol and a mighty good one if I say so myself.

If you can understand my Pappaw, you can probably understand the relationship between Tennessee football and Tennessee football fans. If you can't, there's not much reason to try to explain it.

It's an us vs. them proposition. If you're one of us, you know how we feel; if you're not, I'm not sure you want to know.

Some people make the mistake of separating the game from all the stuff that surrounds the game and therefore can't see what's the big deal. College football in general, Southern college football in the particular and Tennessee Volunteer Go Big Orange college football, to be precise, is much much more than that.

It's crisp autumn afternoons with chicken barbecuing, bands playing and trees trying to out-pretty each other. It's riding down the river as part of the Vol Navy and singing Rocky Top 400 or 500 times in an afternoon. It's a cold beer and a turkey sandwich at Sam & Andy's down on Cumberland Avenue before the game. It's tailgating around Kent Boy Rose's orange and white motor home -- one of the hundreds of that color that line Neyland Drive on game day, right outside Neyland Stadium where General Neyland used to coach. It's memories of Tennessee Walking Horses strutting the sidelines and of cannons in the end zone. It's Old Smokey howling for a touchdown. It's John Ward hollering GIVE HIM SIX when the good guys score and hollering STOPPED BY A HOST OF VOLUNTEERS when the bad guys get stuffed. It's Bobby Denton calling the play by play and telling a fired-up crowd "It's fooootball time in TENN-E-SSEEEEE!" It's old women and little babies decked out in orange. It's African-Americans and redneck farmers high-fiving, hugging and saying "How bout them Vols?" after a touchdown.

It's touchdowns.

It's road trips to Birmingham, radio talk shows, shakers, and flags flapping in the wind. It's dancing to the Tennessee Waltz after the game and sipping illicit Tennessee whiskey during it.

It's memories: The time we beat the unbeatable Auburn and the unstoppable Bo Jackson couldn't go anywhere but backward; the undertalented Daryl Dickey shutting the overactive mouths of a Miami team in the Sugar Bowl we were supposed to lose by 22 but won by 28; holding Larry Csonka and Floyd Little out of the end zone to preserve a bowl victory over Syracuse; reminding Ken Stabler that left-handers can lose football games too; Condredge Holloway hopping out of an ambulance to return to the UCLA game and rally the troops to a tying touchdown; Jack Reynolds cutting his car in half after a loss and earning the nickname Hacksaw.

It's Doug Atkins, the Majors boys, Bob Johnson, Charlie Rosenfelder, Karl Kremser, Richmond Flowers, Herman "Thunderfoot" Weaver, Dewey "Swamp Rat" Warren, Tony Robinson, Curt Watson, Steve Kiner, Willie Gault, Carl Pickens and Reggie White and all our other heroes running through that big T while the Pride of the Southland band plays and over 100,000 of us holler and carry on like free-will Baptists having a spell. It's also memories of my daddy sitting on the front porch during the last autumn Saturdays of his life listening to the game on the radio and cussing and spitting tobacco juice every time an opponent gained a step on us. He would understand what I'm talking about.

So would Pappaw.

I could go on, but you probably get the picture. If you don't, you won't ever so there's no reason to go further.

I guess it's the kind of feeling that just runs in the family.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On Guy Tower

When The Virginia Bar Association hired Guy Tower as executive director, they got the right man, and so it's sad news to read that he is retiring, but happy news for him. Not many people can do so many things well, as the job requires and as he did, with good humor. I'm glad my time on the VBA board was while he was there.

Here he is on the left, with three other of my favorites - Patricia Epps, Judge Winship Tower, and John Epps.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NC nuisance law cannot be applied to TVA plants in Tennessee

Yesterday in State of North Carolina v. TVA, the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Wilkinson joined by Judges Shedd and Niemeyer held that North Carolina's common law of nuisance could not be applied to require the Tennessee Valley Authority to spend a billion dollars to retrofit its coal-powered generation plants in East Tennessee to comply with North Carolina's emissions laws.

Judge Wilkinson wrote, by way of introduction:

"If allowed to stand, the injunction would encourage courts to use vague public nuisance standards to scuttle the nation’s carefully created system for accommodating the need for energy production and the need for clean air. The result would be a balkanization of clean air regulations and a confused patchwork of standards, to the detriment of industry and the environment alike. Moreover, the injunction improperly applied home state law extraterritorially, in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court’s decision in International Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481 (1987). Finally, even if it could be assumed that the North Carolina district court did apply Alabama and Tennessee law, it is difficult to understand how an activity expressly permitted and extensively regulated by both federal and state government could somehow constitute a public nuisance. For these reasons, the judgment must be reversed."

Constitutional challenge to FOIA revived

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act limits the right of access to the public records of state and local government in Virginia to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Today in McBurney v. Cuccinelli, the Fourth Circuit in a somewhat split decision reversed the E.D. Va., concluding that some of the out-of-state plaintiffs have shown they have standing to bring a constitutional challenge to this limitation - but not against Mr. Cuccinelli.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Watch what you ask for

In MCI Constructors v. City of Greensboro, the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Duncan joined by Chief Judge Traxler and Judge Davis affirmed an arbitration award in favor of the City and against the contractor for over $14 million, arising under a $29 million contract for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility.

The case began when the Contractor filed suit against the City and its Engineer, then the City counterclaimed for breach of contract. The District Court granted summary judgment for the City on the counterclaim, in the amount of $13 million, but the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, in 2005.

On remand, the parties agreed to arbitration. The arbitration was heard in 2006, the arbitration panel decided the merits of the contract claim in 2007 and awarded $14 million as damages in 2008. The panel refused to modify its award and refused the Contractor's request for a "reasoned award." Back in District Court, the parties filed twenty-two briefs, including such issues as whether the $14 million award included or did not include the $9 million that was still owed to the Contractor for other parts of the contract.

It doesn't sound like the Contractor's decisions to file the suit and then to choose arbitration turned out well - and I've been there.

One for probation officers and riders of public transportation

Today in U.S. v. Alvarado Perez, the Fourth Circuit in a published opinion by Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcon of the Ninth Circuit, joined by Judges Gregory and Shedd, affirmed an enhanced jail sentence in a gun case for an illegal immigrant gang member and sex offender who took a loaded revolver with him on a city bus to a meeting with his probation officer, where immigration officials seized him and found the pistol in his backpack.

Judge Alarcon, so it says here, "was the first Hispanic appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when former president Jimmy Carter named him to the bench in 1979. He previously served as Chief of Staff and legal counsel for Governor Edmund G. Brown and as chair of the California Parole Board."

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Kagan and Byrd

One of the raps on the Supreme Court nominee being considered this week, Elena Kagan, is that she has never been a judge, never tried a case, and never argued an appeal until just recently.

Off the top of my head, the last couple of Supreme Court justices who were not judges before they went on the Supreme Court were William Rehnquist and Virginia's own Lewis Powell, who were appointed by Nixon. Rehnquist was in the Justice Department after several years of private practice in Arizona, while Powell the former ABA president was with Hunton & Williams, as it is now known. I don't think that either of these two suffered from lack of influence on the Supreme Court on account of their lack of prior judicial experience.

The passing of Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia reminds me that in his book, he claims that President Nixon considered him for the Supreme Court, before the "surprise" nominations of Rehnquist and Powell in 1971. Evidently having a lot of free time on his hands, Byrd graduated from law school in D.C. while he was a senator, but never took the bar examination. I'm almost certain that Elena Kagan is every bit as qualified as Robert Byrd was to be on the United States Supreme Court.

On Kagan and McChrystal

This morning I saw this article which says among other things: "The solution to a less politicized military can be accomplished via dilution, but for this to happen more political centrists and liberals would have to join the military. I doubt this will happen. According to tens of thousands of surveys conducted by University of Virginia social psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, politically conservative individuals disproportionately value both respect for authority and loyalty — values that perfectly align with military culture. By contrast, those on the political left disproportionally value caring for others and fairness. These are admirable preferences, but they don't immediately comport with a military career."

And, it reminds me of some things I've thought about before. One is that there is nothing wrong with making lawyers to change the world, notwithstanding for example the views of the critics of the law schools at Liberty and Regent. There are a few posts here about the start-up of the Liberty law school, a few years ago.

The Rumsfeld v. FAIR case always struck me as an outrage, both because it was legally unsustainable and because the means never fit the end. In the FAIR case, the law schools claimed that the Solomon Amendment that punished schools for banning military recruiters violated the First Amendment rights of the law school, or some part of it. The Supreme Court rejected this claim, 8-0.

One of the law school administrators at the front of the military recruitment ban was Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, whose hearings are this week. If people like her really wanted to change the military, they should have taken a page from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's playbook and been trying to get more Harvard lawyers in the JAG corps, rather than less. The military recruitment ban was unjustified and unjustifiable, legally and practically. If it's true that liberals and centrists are less likely to choose the military of their own accord, then would-be liberal reformers like Ms. Kagan should have been trying to do more not less to encourage them to pursue military careers. It would appear that General McChrystal could have have used a few on his staff, so that he might at least have had more of a clue when he or others around him were saying stupid things.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Goodlatte Building?

Rep. Goodlatte opposes the renovation of the federal building in Roanoke, named for former Congressman and Supreme Court Justice Richard Poff, preferring instead the construction of a new building.

Chief Justice Hassell on the state of the judiciary in Virginia

Here are the remarks of the Chief Justice to the assembled judges of the Commonwealth last month in Norfolk.

He discussed the problem of the various programs and funding challenges, and then a bit about himself, since it will be his last judicial conference as the chief judge:

"I was born in Norfolk, at Norfolk Community Hospital, which is about 20 minutes from this hotel, adjacent to the campus of Norfolk State University.

I went to elementary school in Norfolk. Judge Jerrauld Jones and I were among 14 black kids who voluntarily integrated Lake Taylor Junior High School in Norfolk. I was one of the first in a group of students who was bussed across town in an effort to integrate the Norfolk public schools.

I attended church in Norfolk, and my great faith in God was birthed, developed, nurtured and matured in Norfolk. My parents met in Norfolk; they were married in Norfolk; and I was raised in Norfolk.

My grandmother, who was a widow with five children at the age of 20 – she was married, but her husband, after whom I was named, died unexpectedly – came to Norfolk in search of work because she had to support her children. She was a domestic worker, and she worked for a Norfolk lawyer whose name appears on probably more deeds of trust than any other lawyer in Virginia, that being Samuel White. He was very kind to my grandmother, and not only did he provide legal help to her, but he helped her acquire real property, which in turn improved her standard of living.

The first time I ever met a lawyer was in Norfolk, Judge Joseph Jordan, who was a member of the Norfolk City Council, and who later became the first black general district court judge in Norfolk.

I have many wonderful memories of Norfolk. I also had the pleasure of attending a hearing in which a young lawyer by the name of Henry Marsh successfully argued to the federal district court in Norfolk that in order to achieve meaningful integration, bussing was a necessary tool. Henry Marsh won his case, and henceforth, I and thousands of other Norfolkians who were enrolled in the public schools began the experiment of racial integration in our public school system.

Some of my mentors are also from Norfolk: Judge James Benton, who was the first judge of color on the Court of Appeals of Virginia, Justice John Charles Thomas, who was the first judge of color on the Supreme Court of Virginia. They were my mentors, they are my friends, and they encouraged me throughout my career. As a matter of fact, when I was a student at the Harvard Law School, John Charles Thomas, who was then a lawyer at Hunton & Williams, would regularly write letters to me. I guess he thought he was my older brother, and he made sure I was attending class and completing my studies."

Friday, June 18, 2010

You knew that was coming one of these days

It says here that some Southwest Virginia landowners have filed suits in Abingdon federal court seeking to have class actions certified against Equitable and CNX for cheating landowners out of billions of dollars in connection with the production of coalbed methane.

Among other things, the Complaints seek judgment that Virginia Gas Act is unconstitutional.

UPDATE: The Equitable complaint is here and the CNX complaint is here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Former Justice Souter's graduation speech at Harvard

In this speech, former U.S. Supreme Court justice David Souter tries to debunk criticisms of liberal judicial activitism, the gist of which is that not all Constitutional questions are as simple as the minimum age of U.S. Senators.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Eat a good breakfast (or not)

This story about the Duke law student who fainted during oral argument in the Fourth Circuit reminds me of court appearances when I wished I had eaten less for breakfast.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The sheriff said it

This story from the Galax paper describes how the Sheriff of Grayson County tackled a fleeing suspect in a field of Christmas trees.

The article concludes: "Sheriff Vaughan stated that Proverbs 28:1 is correct in that 'only the wicked flee when no man pursueth.'"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is the interstate commerce nexus of the health care reform bill?

The lawsuit filed by Virginia's Attorney General challenges the authority of Congress acting under the Interstate Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to require the purchase of health insurance. The Complaint cites a report by the Congressional Research Service, which analyzes the constitutionality of such a requirement.

What the so-called "Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act" says about the nexus between interstate commerce and the so-called "individual responsibility requirement" is this:

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress makes the following findings:
(1) IN GENERAL.—The individual responsibility requirement
provided for in this section (in this subsection referred to as
the ‘‘requirement’’) is commercial and economic in nature, and
substantially affects interstate commerce, as a result of the
effects described in paragraph (2).
COMMERCE.—The effects described in this paragraph are the
(A) The requirement regulates activity that is commercial
and economic in nature: economic and financial
decisions about how and when health care is paid for,
and when health insurance is purchased.
(B) Health insurance and health care services are a
significant part of the national economy. National health
spending is projected to increase from $2,500,000,000,000,
or 17.6 percent of the economy, in 2009 to
$4,700,000,000,000 in 2019. Private health insurance
spending is projected to be $854,000,000,000 in 2009, and
pays for medical supplies, drugs, and equipment that are
shipped in interstate commerce. Since most health insurance
is sold by national or regional health insurance companies,
health insurance is sold in interstate commerce and
claims payments flow through interstate commerce.
(C) The requirement, together with the other provisions
of this Act, will add millions of new consumers to the
health insurance market, increasing the supply of, and
demand for, health care services. According to the Congressional
Budget Office, the requirement will increase the
number and share of Americans who are insured.
(D) The requirement achieves near-universal coverage
by building upon and strengthening the private employerbased
health insurance system, which covers 176,000,000
Americans nationwide. In Massachusetts, a similar requirement
has strengthened private employer-based coverage:
despite the economic downturn, the number of workers
offered employer-based coverage has actually increased.
(E) Half of all personal bankruptcies are caused in
part by medical expenses. By significantly increasing health
insurance coverage, the requirement, together with the
other provisions of this Act, will improve financial security
for families.
(F) Under the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974
(29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.), the Public Health
Service Act
(42 U.S.C. 201 et seq.), and this Act, the Federal
Government has a significant role in regulating health
insurance which is in interstate commerce.
(G) Under sections 2704 and 2705 of the Public Health
Service Act (as added by section 1201 of this Act), if there
were no requirement, many individuals would wait to purchase
health insurance until they needed care. By significantly
increasing health insurance coverage, the requirement,
together with the other provisions of this Act, will
minimize this adverse selection and broaden the health
insurance risk pool to include healthy individuals, which
will lower health insurance premiums. The requirement
is essential to creating effective health insurance markets
in which improved health insurance products that are
guaranteed issue and do not exclude coverage of preexisting
conditions can be sold.
(H) Administrative costs for private health insurance,
which were $90,000,000,000 in 2006, are 26 to 30 percent
of premiums in the current individual and small group
markets. By significantly increasing health insurance coverage
and the size of purchasing pools, which will increase
economies of scale, the requirement, together with the other
provisions of this Act, will significantly reduce administrative
costs and lower health insurance premiums. The
requirement is essential to creating effective health insurance
markets that do not require underwriting and eliminate
its associated administrative costs.
(3) SUPREME COURT RULING.—In United States v. South-
Eastern Underwriters Association (322 U.S. 533 (1944))
, the
Supreme Court of the United States ruled that insurance is
interstate commerce subject to Federal regulation.

H.R. 3590, section 1501(a)(1)-(a)(3).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is it illegal to refuse to answer the census questions?

Section 221 of the Title 13 of the United States Code says this:

(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.

(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.

Whatever that means, who knows the limits of what is a "census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title"?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


The United States Senate approved the nomination of Justice Keenan of the Virginia Supreme Court to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and so the former Justice might not ever again be required to sit before a gang of legislators and have to defend her jurisprudence.

Here is one group's take on Justice Keenan's record on the Supreme Court as evidenced by the opinions she wrote, although I always understood that the majority opinions are more or less assigned at random and so really the dissents are the ones I find most illuminating.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the W.D. Va. judgeships

VLW reports that Judge Norman Moon of the W.D. Va. is taking senior status, which means that President Obama will have an opportunity to nominate a candidate to replace him, subject to the advice and consent of the United States Senate.

A little while ago, I was added to the Virginia Bar Association Committee on Federal Judgeships for the Western District, and so it appears this committee headed by my old friend Howard McElroy will have reason to meet in the near future.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hey, what about 276?

"We wanted to recruit the state and make sure that the players in all areas that we have an opportunity to present ourselves, what we have to offer," London said. "Whether it's 757, 804, 703, 434, whatever area code it is, we're going to try to do the best in those areas."

U.Va. football coach Mike London, quoted in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Senator Puckett on Fox News

Just saw Senator Puckett on with Greta Van Susteren, explaining the vote in the Virginia Senate to reject one element of the health care reform being debated in the U.S. Congress. What good it does for the General Assembly to vote on such things was not really discussed.

More on Judge Glen Williams

This is more or less the text of a speech I gave to a gathering of a few hundred friends of Judge Williams in 2002, and the judge liked it at the time, and now he cannot hold me in contempt of court for republishing it:

I was going to speak as a former law clerk at a ceremony for Judge Williams some years ago, but I couldn’t make it, so Randy Lowe spoke instead. Later, I asked Mona which stories he told, and she said he told the one about Judge Williams and the old woman with the outhouse in St. Charles. There are no outhouses in any of my stories.

Just before my clerkship started, I met a woman newspaper owner from here in Abingdon and told her I was going to work for Glen Williams, She said, “I love Judge Williams. He always hugs me and kisses me whenever we meet. None of the other judges do that.” That was in 1989, and ever since, I’ve often seen the judge give a hug to the women who come to see him. I understand that now Judge Williams is saying that since his eyesight is poor, he has to get up really close to people to see who they are. If it turns out to be a woman, since he’s already there, he might as well give her a hug.

There has never been a day when I have been with Judge Williams and he did not laugh, usually at himself. I worked for him during the last big coal miners’ strike, which got a lot of publicity, and during that time, the judge read to us a letter from an old acquaintance who had seen him on one of the TV reports, and the letter went something like this: Dear Glen, she wrote. It has been some years since last we met. I saw you on the news the other night. You looked terrible, and your voice is all wrong for television, and those clothes are so out of fashion. But oh how I loved watching you – to have those words of wisdom come out of that face, in that voice.

Maybe the best part about being a law clerk is that even after your clerkship is over, you still can talk to Judge Williams from time to time for help in understanding the real world.

There was a period of time in which I helped defend lawsuits against three governing boards. One board included the judge’s brother Don, another had his brother Lowell, and the third had Judge Williams himself. One day I told the judge about all this, and that I could only conclude that if there’s a board and one of the Williams boys is on it, there is going to be trouble. The judge said “Steve, anyone in Lee County could have told you that.”

On another trip back to the judge’s office, the judge introduced me to his latest law clerks, and he told them I did good work for him, and I had to correct him, explaining that no, I was surely the worst law clerk you ever had, because two of the opinions I wrote were reversed. The judge said “I wish you hadn’t said that, I had these boys thinking I’d never been reversed.” (That’s boys, pronounced like baw-eez with two syllables.) The judge was curious and asked what the cases were, and when I started telling him that one was a bankruptcy case, the judge cut me off, and said, “oh, bankruptcy, why, you might as well flip a coin.”

Judge Williams told me once that he took comfort in the fact that on those few occasions when one of his cases went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and they decided the case the other way, the vote was always 9-0. That way he knew for sure he was well and truly wrong, he said, and that a little more work on his opinion would not have made any difference.

I’m not sure, however, that the judge is always entirely in agreement with the appeals courts. I worked on a land use case involving property in downtown Jonesville. Judge Williams was opposed to the project, but Judge Quillen ruled that it could proceed, and the town appealed. After the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed Judge Quillen’s ruling, I mentioned this to Judge Williams, who replied, “well, Steve, they got it wrong of course, but I’m sure they tried their best.”

The hardest thing about being a former law clerk is when the judge, my own judge, my favorite judge - rules against me.

At one hearing, Judge Williams started calling me “John,” not once but over and over. The lawyer on the other side of the case, a high-powered guy from a big firm in Richmond, got in on the act and started calling me “Mr. Thornton.” Finally I said, “Judge, you all can call me any name you like, so long as you grant my motion.”

In another case, the other lawyer and I were arguing in chambers and I told the judge the plaintiff was going for punitive damages. The judge asked if this was true. The other lawyer said yes it was. I guess Judge Williams was trying to help me out when he replied, “why, no, Mr. Minor’s clients weren’t malicious, they were just dumb.”

Once I explained to Judge Williams that nothing is more painful for me as a former clerk than when he rules against me – it was like being rejected by my grandfather. The judge considered this and said “no wonder I rule against you, you haven’t got any tact. I’m not old enough to be your grandfather.” I guess Judge Williams must know that my grandmother over in Jonesville, is at least 83 years old, and so in his opinion that makes her much, much older than anyone born after 1919.

Maybe “grandfather” was the wrong word. In one of those lawyer books by Scott Turow, there’s a character who explains the relationship between a judge and his law clerks, and she says that just like a race horse is always known by its sire and dam, the law clerk throughout his legal career is always known by the judge for whom he clerked. So like the character in that book, let me say, that it is my proudest heritage as a lawyer to be known always as a Judge Williams’ clerk. Thank you, Judge Williams, and congratulations on 25 years.

P.S., make that 34 years.

Monday, February 01, 2010

On Judge Williams

The word is out that Judge Glen M. Williams is retiring altogether from his position as senior judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Judge Williams was appointed in 1976.

A few of the posts I have written about Judge Williams are collected here. It has been almost twenty years since my clerkship with him ended.

On getting old and deciding when to quit, he often retold some version of this story attributed to Justice Field.

I've heard that Judge Jones will take over the pending cases except for conflicts. One of our cases was reassigned last week from Judge Williams to Judge Turk.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Who's up for re-election this year?

One never knows what's going on, but I know that Judge Tate from the 28th District is up for reappointment, as are I think Judges Moore and Vanover from the 29th Circuit. Who else?

As is the custom here, I invite those three to tell anybody I'm for them or against them, whichever bests suits their purposes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One of those gratuitous offensive things that governors are allowed to do on their way out the door

Governor Kaine started the process for Jens Soering to be transferred to Germany and released from prison, as reported here, which seems like a lucky break for Soering on top of the fact that but for his status as a German national he would have likely received the death penalty years ago.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What would Judge Williams say about this

The latest gas article by Daniel Gilbert says that the General Assembly might not act to rationalize the gas royalty escrow problem because of the pending lawsuit filed by Shea Cook, which makes me think of the similar argument made against the Guarantee Clause litigation before Judge Williams, where the Funds argued that the litigation would stop Congress from fixing the problem. Judge Williams famously wrote:

"If Congress is so wimpish and weak that it is swayed by a lowly district court's judgment which may give temporary relief to a few elderly and widows, and fails to act on a long term solution to the problem then, in the court's view, Congress never intended to act in the first place. The court would encourage Congress to continue its search for a solution. If the government can bail out New York City, the savings and loan industry, and Chrysler Corporation, whose losses were due to their own neglect, surely it can find a solution to the ills of a few health care beneficiaries in the hills of Virginia, whose plight is not of their own making."

Doe v. Connors, 796 F. Supp. 214, 224 (W.D. Va. 1992).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On the late George Warren

George Warren died yesterday, as the Bristol paper reports here.

When I was a young lawyer, I took court-appointed criminal cases because that was the thing to do, and the prosecutor here was George Warren. And, whenever I got some cases, I would go see Mr. Warren before plea day, and he would explain to me in colorful terms how my client was a scoundrel and nothing but a scroundrel, and tell me a few stories, and I never kept score but the odds are that we laughed out loud at every such meeting. He was a good man and a good lawyer and good friend to thousands, including me.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The more Virginia governors you know, the more you like the single term limit?

So says Larry Sabato, more or less, in Va.'s McDonnell seeks end to term limit - Washington Times:

"The more Virginia governors I've known, the more grateful I've been for the one-term limit. I say that tongue-in-cheek; I like many of them. The arrogance of power is something that citizens need to consider," Mr. Sabato said.