Saturday, April 19, 2003

Judge Emory Widener taking senior status effective 9/30/03?

How Appealing noticed Judge Widener's name on this list of "future vacancies."

A summary of Judge Widener's biography is shown here. He served along with Judge Dalton as the only two W.D. Va. judges from 1969 until 1972, when he was appointed to the Fourth Circuit by President Nixon. In his practicing days, Judge Widener argued a challenge under the 24th Amendment to Virginia's poll tax before the Supreme Court of the United States (Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965)); he also argued a number of cases before the Virginia Supreme Court.

The opinion in another case, argued by Judge Widener before the Fourth Circuit, reads like a script from TVLand:

"This is an appeal by Tianada Leonard, defendant below, from a judgment of the District Court awarding Leonard Helms, the plaintiff below, damages in the sum of $13,000 for serious injuries suffered by him in an automobile accident which occurred in Bristol, Virginia, when Miss Leonard was driving Helms's Cadillac automobile, with Helms seated beside her, and drove the car into a stone wall at a street intersection.
The parties reside in Bristol on the borderline between Virginia and Tennessee. Both unmarried and in their thirties, they had known one another for several years and frequently went out together. Customarily they drove about in the evening in the area of Bristol in Helms's car with the lady at the wheel, as she liked to drive the Cadillac." Leonard v. Helms, 269 F.2d 48 (4th Cir. 1959).

My favorite opinion by Judge Widener was and is the case of Johnson v. Carter. The case was about a defamation claim against the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet of the United States Navy, who allegedly defamed a base policeman who had given the admiral's daughter a warning for speeding on the base in Norfolk. The issue was whether the U.S. was the proper defendant under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Judge Widener was the dissenter on the original panel, but wrote the majority opinion when the majority of the en banc court split his way on rehearing. Judge Widener concluded that the CINCLANT was always acting within the scope of his employment, twenty-four hours a day, and if he could order ships about from his backyard while wearing civilian clothes, he could do the same to the policeman who stopped his daughter, without fear of interference from the courts.

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