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.