Saturday, March 29, 2003

Lotto winner goes deep for WV Little League

In Southern West Virginia, as reported here, a winner of the Powerball lottery jackpot has donated $70,000 to a local Little League. The league has a group of four trustees for its new bank account. The report describes the various appeals the winner receives for financial aid.

UPDATE: Other Southern West Virginians might hope to share the wealth, as this report says a $60 M winning ticket was bought in Bluefield last week.

No diploma without passing the SOLs, will political pressure and litigation result?

According to this report, this year's high school juniors have until the end of their senior year to pass the Virginia Standards of Learning test or fail to earn a diploma. As Professor Leslie Bolt of JMU observes, "The real test will be when the state begins to deny graduation to students," noting that some states have backed off when that happened while others have seen dropout rates rise. He wondered, "Will Virginia voters be willing to accept the fact that at least one out of five high-school seniors will not graduate, or that the dropout rates will increase?" He expects graduation and school accreditation based on passing tests to disappear in a few years under pressure from parents. "The political life of the SOL movement is already on life support," he said.

On the other hand, emeritus professor Dan Fleming of Virginia Tech points to the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandates testing and other requirements through 2014, when today's first-graders are scheduled to graduate. "Still, a new president or Congress could gut the law. On the state level, passing scores were lowered for Virginia's SOL history tests when so few students passed them, although they were reset to where teachers -- including Fleming at the time -- originally recommended."

Could the SOLs ever be the subject of litigation? Just this past week, I filed an answer in a case where the parents of a young man are claiming his constitutional rights have been violated by the school's decision to suspend him for one day.

State Board of Medicine disciplines doctors for failure to update info for DHP website

As reported here, two Virginia doctors were disciplined for failing to provide information on claims and license suspensions for publication on the website of the Department of Health Professions. Board officials explained regarding the information on the DHP website that "they rely on physicians to 'self report' most information to the site, and that they lack the staff to verify much of the data." The Board does verify information on the website "relating to its own disciplinary actions." The Practitioner Information website can be found here.

Second suit claiming beach property fails, sanctions claim imminent

This account describes the dismissal of a second suit by a Virginia Beach land speculator who claimed to own part of the beach in Virginia Beach. In 2000, the circuit court judge dismissed the prior claim, concluding the plaintiff "had perpetrated 'a fraud of grand design' in making his claim." Donald Clark, representing the City, indicated the City would seek to recover $55,000 for its attorneys' fees and costs in defending the second action.

Under Va. Code § 8.01-271.1, every paper filed and every oral motion made in court could be the basis for sanctions if the Court concludes it was not "well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law."

Roanoke County traffic death results in $250 fine

The Associated Press reports here that the victim's family was appalled at the light sentence given to a woman who ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, resulting in the death of the other driver. The court found the defendant guilty of reckless driving and imposed a $250 fine with no license suspension and no jail time. Daniel Frankl represented the defendant.

Former Pocahontas mayor bonds out on federal murder charges

This article from the Bluefield paper confirms that Charles Gilmore has posted bond set at $500,000 and obtained his release, pending trial on federal charges relating to the triple murder in 1989 which has been the subject of multiple trials in state and federal court. Last year, Sam Ealy was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the crimes, after being acquitted in state court in 1991. Walter Church was also tried last year in federal court, but the jury could not reach a verdict, and he awaits another trial. In connection with the Church case, Judge Jones of the W.D. Va. joined the courts which have upheld the constitutionality of the federal death penalty, in a series of opinions culminating with this one.

Vote on collective bargaining agreement will determine foundry's future

This article describes the setting for the union's second vote on the proposed contract with the Radford Foundry, which employs 300 and provides 30% of the City of Radford's revenue through electricity sales alone.

Historic figures in integration of Virginia Tech question BOV decisions on race

This Roanoke Times article relates the views of the first African-American to attend Virginia Tech, who also "the first black undergraduate ever enrolled at a white public university in the former Confederacy," and was honored in Blacksburg this Friday. Irving Peddrew was admitted by Tech (without litigation) in 1953, after the University of Virginia had lost its legal battle in 1950 to deny admission to a black law student. (The NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall and others, targeted graduate schools and colleges before winning the desegregation of public schools.) Peddrew "blasted the board for acting before the Supreme Court ruling and called the new policy 'grossly ill-timed and grossly insensitive.' Peddrew also criticized the board for approving the resolution without public notice or discussion." The AP had this report on the protests of black Tech alumni, joined by Peddrew.

Also this week, Virginia Tech announced that Chief Justice Leroy Hassell of the Virginia Supreme Court will be this year's commencement speaker, as stated here. While the Chief Justice will surely not comment on the school's admissions policies, he is a powerful thinker and speaker whose presence might inspire some to wonder how it is that African-Americans are better represented on the Virginia Supreme Court than on the public college campuses of Virginia.

The New York Times has this report on the anti-affirmative action group that targeted Virginia Tech, U.Va., and others for programs that provided special assistance for racial minorities.

Johnson City lawsuit claims conspiracy to prevent auto imports from Canada

On the Tennessee side, a group of consumers have sued the Big Three automakers and others, claiming they are wrongfully preventing plaintiffs from buying cars cheaper in Canada and bringing them to Tennessee, according to this report. Thomas Jessee, representing the plaintiffs, claims that the carmakers will not be able to remove the case because the amount in controversy for each plaintiff is less than $75,000. The suit claims that cars are 10-30% cheaper in Canada.

Virginia tobacco commissioners worried over $10 billion Illinois judgment in smoker case

As reported here, Del. Terry Kilgore is suggesting that Philip Morris "might not be able to pay into the fund" of tobacco-settlement money, which is earmarked for a multitude of government projects in Virginia. The Virginia attorney general's office indicated that it may intervene in the Illinois case to seek the lowering of the bond for the cigarette maker's appeal. The Tobacco Commission website is located here.

The same story arose because Philip Morris (now Altria) reported on Friday it would be unable to make a tobacco settlement payment scheduled for April 15, because of the Illinois case, as reported here. The former governor of Illinois, now representing the company, was quoted here as saying that the appeal bond could bankrupt Philip Morris. The Illinois Attorney General said the bankruptcy talk is phony, as reported here.

Philip Morris could never be subjected to a multi-billion dollar punitive judgment in Virginia, where by this statute, punitives are limited to $350,000 for all the defendants in a case.

SWVA legislators predict a struggle

Bud Phillips, Phillip Puckett, and William Wampler offer their predictions for next week's veto session of the legislature, in this report. In the Richmond Times, Republican legislators vowed to make the estate tax a campaign issue if the governor's veto is sustained, according to this report. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported here that Governor Warner is using some "political muscle," including the threat of a special session in October to deal with budget cuts.

Murderer of Payless manager gets life, blames prosecutors and witnesses

The killer of a grocery store manager in Wise County received a life sentence yesterday, while still protesting his innocence, according to this report in the Bristol paper. The defendant denied that he needed money for drugs, saying that "I didn't have to rob or kill to get drugs." The Kingsport paper's report noted the defendant's claim that he was denied bond before trial because the Commonwealth's attorney "wanted me to be in jail so I could be around the other inmates and they could be witnesses,"

Friday, March 28, 2003

DOL seeks to amend "white collar" overtime exemption

From Findlaw, here is the Department of Labor's proposal for revision of the Fair Labor Standard Act to modernize the definitions of who is and is not exempt from the overtime laws.

"The Tooth Fairy" strikes in Lee County

From the Kingsport paper comes this account of a Lee County man charged with stealing his roommate's upper denture and holding it for ransom. After the victim moved out, the accused "told her he had the dentures but the only way she would get them back would be if she gave him $20, [the victim] testified. He further threatened to stomp on the teeth in front of her if she did not pay the ransom, she said. [The victim] further alleged that [the defendant] told her the dogs had been playing with the teeth, but she said the dogs had died by the time the teeth disappeared."

Refusing to sever conspiracy claims for trial

In this opinion, Judge Michael of the W.D. Va. rules that co-conspirators to wire fraud should be joined together for trial.

What's different about drug abuse in Appalachia?

This account of a regional conference on drug abuse suggests some ways in which the drug abuse problem in the Kentucky-Virginia-West Virginia-Tennessee region may be unique.

Not your average "New York" liberal with SWVA roots

This column reports the words and deeds of a Southwest Virginia native turned Vietnam veteran turned Gulf War protester in New York City.

Thumbs down on vetoes

On Thursday, Attorney General Kilgore criticized Governor Warner's vetoes of the estate tax repeal and the "Choose Life" license plate, as reported here.

Let's put a shale mine in your historic neighborhood

A circuit court judge in Orange County has ruled that a shale mine is a permissible use of property zoned as residential, where it is accessory to the primary use of property owned by a brick-making company, according to this report. The losing property owners vowed an appeal.

On Mr. Jefferson's skills as budget lobbyist

The new president of the University of Michigan cited Thomas Jefferson's lobbying to have the Virginia General Assembly divert money from secondary schools to pay for the University of Virginia, according to this report of her installation. In the Garry Wills book on Mr. Jefferson's University, he writes that Jefferson also lobbied at other times in favor of diverting money away from a proposed expansion of the College of William & Mary to secondary schools.

Constitutional retro

This Washington Times article describes efforts to secure passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia, and other states.

Some states are still catching up on the Civil Rights Amendments from the Reconstruction. It is not clear to me when if ever Mississippi ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, although there are those who say there was another Thirteenth Amendment from before the Civil War which was aimed at "titles of nobility."

Consumer protection or power grab?

The SCC has struck out again in its effort to re-regulate electricity in Virginia, as this Richmond Times story recounts that Governor Warner joined the legislature in refusing to rebundle rates as proposed by the SCC.

The governor did sign the legislature's new law keeping subsidiaries of American Electric Power and Dominion Power out of a regional power grid. According to the Electricity Consumer Resources Council, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must overturn the new Virginia law "to avoid disintegration of the commission's regional transmission organization initiative," as reported here in Forbes.

Sounding the alarm for children

This article describes the implementation of Virginia's new 'Amber Alert" law. The federal "Amber Alert" legislation passed the House of Representatives yesterday, according to this Washington Times story.

Gun control lessons from Grundy

The killings at the Appalachian School of Law are at the center of a new book on how the issue of gun control is reported, according to this review. The author is quoted as observing this: "seventy-two stories described how the attacker was stopped, without mentioning the student heroes had guns. But almost the same number of stories (sixty-eight) provided precise details on the gun used in the attack."

Future escheat item

According to this AP story, the clock is ticking on an $11.6 M Virginia lottery jackpot.

April 14-18 before the Virginia Supreme Court:

Interesting cases being argued before the Virginia Supreme Court the week of April 14:

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DIVISION OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT, EX REL. SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES v. KATHERYN R. FLETCHER (Record Number 021186), dealing with the jurisdiction of the juvenile and domestic relations district courts to terminate parental responsibilities. Apparently, Hunton & Williams lawyers including Ed Fuhr, not the usual suspects in a juvenile court case, are representing the appellee against the Commonwealth's lawyers.

YELLOW FREIGHT SYSTEMS, INC. v. COURTAULDS PERFORMANCE FILMS, INC., ET AL. (Record Number 022244), dealing with the timeliness of the worker's compensation lien in a case where personal injury claims were settled. A dry issue that affects what lawyers do every day. The lawyers include appeals specialist S. Vernon Priddy for the appellant and James K. Cowan, Jr. and Joseph M. Rainsbury (Flippin, Densmore, Morse & Jessee, P.C.) and Richard Cranwell and H. Keith Moore (Cranwell, Moore & Bullington, P.L.C.) for the appellees.

FRANK X. LACKMAN v. LONG & FOSTER REAL ESTATE, INC., ET AL. (Record Number 021985), dealing with the appellant trying to escape an arbitrator's award, and AFFINITY LOGIC CORPORATION v. DIGEX, INC. (Record Number 022044), also dealing with arbitration, including the assignment of error that the circuit court erroneously denied the appellant's motion to crave oyer as to the arbitration agreement, when the appellant claimed there was none.

GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY v. HOLMES S. MOORE, ET AL. (Record Number 022242) deals with insurance coverage issues, including the circuit court's determination (by Judge Keith of Fairfax County) to find coverage based on a scrivener's error in the policy.

Also, there is a certified question, from the Fourth Circuit, in the case of C.F. Trust, Incorporated, et al. v. First Flight Limited Partnership, Record No. 022212. The issue has to do with "reverse veil-piercing," specifically, as stated in this opinion, these questions:

(1)"Would Virginia recognize a claim for outsider reverse veil-piercing under the facts of this case?

(2) If the answer to (1) is yes, what standards must be met before Virginia would allow reverse veil-piercing of the limited partnership?

The new ethics

Rule 8.4 of Virginia's Rules for Professional Conduct defining professional misconduct has been amended, as shown here.

The old rule said:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
. . .
(c) engage in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation . . . .

as shown here.

The new rule says:

It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
. . .
(c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation which reflects adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law. . . .

So, I guess this implies that there are some kinds of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" which do NOT reflect adversely on the lawyer's fitness to practice law?

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Who'd believe a story like that?

This account describes the rise of a poor Southwest Virginia lawyer to become governor of Virginia and presidential cabinet member. (He was not a Republican - nor a Whig or a Know-Nothing.)

Before O.J, there was Edith

In 1935, the prosecution in Wise County of Edith Maxwell for murdering her father made headlines, according to this account, which describes the local reaction to the distortions in the national media of the facts of the case. This new book about some famous Virginia murders includes the Maxwell case.

Three from the 4th Circuit

Today the Fourth Circuit in this opinion by Judge Wilkinson reversed Judge Payne's decision that Hanover County, Va., and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not legally proceed with a wastewater treatment plant discharging into the Pamunkey River.

In this unpublished opinion, the Court held that the alleged ineffectiveness of petitioner's counsel was not prejudicial enough to warrant relief, reversing the D.S.C.

In this unpublished opinion, cross-appeals contesting the award of court costs were both dismissed for failure to comply with the procedural requirements of Rule 54. The plaintiffs were pro se on the appeal, the defendant was not. (It must have been one vicious and hateful case for the company to appeal on the issue of costs.)

Two Virginia lawyers suspended

A Norfolk attorney pled guilty today to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to illegally obtain a controlled substance, Vicodin, according to this report. He has agreed to an indefinite suspension of his law license. A Herndon lawyer suspended this week by the Virginia State Bar for two and one-half years "attributed his difficulties to 'office management problems,' adding: 'It's an embarrassing thing. But it's good for everyone involved, and I think I need to take a break from the practice of law. I'm a little burned out,'" as quoted in this Washington Post story.

Out of 955 new laws, which ones affect SWVA

In this article the Coalfield Progress lists "bills of local interest" signed by Governor Warner. The final tally on the governor's response to the legislative session was 955 bills signed, 87 amended, 4 vetoed, according to this summary in the Kingsport paper.

Economic impact of war and constitutionality of the "Choose Life" plate

Governor Warner said today the war's economic impact on Virginia is unknown, according to this report. This commentary in the New York Times (registration required) says war does not bring prosperity, noting that "Economic evaluations [of the war's impact] emphasize the negative effects of uncertainty and possible oil shocks, rather than any positive effects of military spending."

In the same story, Governor Warner cited Judge Bertelsman's ruling in a South Carolina case as one basis for his veto of the "Choose Life" license plate. Judge Bertelsman, a senior status judge from the E.D. Ky., ruled that the plaintiffs including Planned Parenthood of South Carolina had standing and that the license plate was a form of viewpoint discrimination, applying the Fourth Circuit's Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate opinion, which affirmed Judge Kiser's ruling against a Virginia license plate statute as applied to the use of the Confederate flag and generated these widely divergent opinions from Judges Wilkinson, Williams, Luttig, Niemeyer, and Gregory on the denial of rehearing.

Who will play Jerry Kilgore in the movie?

The Richmond Times reports here that Attorney General Kilgore will not take a further appeal in the Beverly Monroe murder case following yesterday's decision in the Fourth Circuit, leaving the local Commonwealth's Attorney to decide whether to retry the case.

Who wouldn't want to be sued in Virginia?

Two Virginia doctors in litigation over investments in Montana will challenge the constitutionality of Montana statute against choice-of-venue provisions in contracts, as reported here.

FOIA win in Winchester

The police chief in Winchester has been fined $100 for violating FOIA in connection with the information requests of the father of a man convicted of murder, according to this report.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

From us to Saddam

On the Tennessee side, this article cites the Tri-Cities' own Holston Army Ammunition Plant in explaining how Tennessee products supply the military.

Twice chastized Virginia police

The Washington Post had this article on a Fairfax police unit that has twice recently drawn judicial criticism of their search and seizure tactics.

FERC to decide validity of new VA power grid law

State utility commissions from other states complained to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month that a new Virginia law prohibiting subsidiaries of American Electric Power and Dominion Resources from joining a regional power grid group is unconstitutional, according to this report.

Why pick on the courthouse for picketing

Last week, this story appeared locally and elsewhere about the war protesters who situated themselves at the W.D. Va. federal courthouse in Abingdon. Evidently, they stopped protesting on Thursday while the NASCAR race fans were coming in and started up again on Saturday when presumably the race people were at the track. There is no comment from anyone who works in the building, which includes the chambers of Judge Widener, Judge Jones, Judge Williams, and Magistrate Judge Sargent.

Of numerosity and commonality

This article says "Urban Appalachians struggle in hopes of finding a better life," describing urban Appalachians as an oppressed minority group, which makes me wonder whether here in Appalachia we are somehow an oppressed majority.

Larry Harley at SWVA Legal Aid can stop holding his breath

Today in this opinion the U.S. Supreme Court upheld IOLTA accounts against a takings challenge, concluding that no "just compensation" was due because there was no loss to the plaintiff. Virginia's IOLTA rules appear in the last two pages of these guidelines.

Murder defendant gets a new trial, Rule 11 sanctions reversed

Today in this opinion the Fourth Circuit affirmed the rulings of W.D. Va.'s Judge Kiser that the defendant in an employment discrimination case was entitled to summary judgment on the merits as well as an award of attorneys' fees and costs, but reversed Judge Kiser's sua sponte sanctions under Rule 11 for failure to adhere to the safe harbor procedures.

Another panel in this opinion affirmed the E.D. Va.'s Judge Williams' decision to grant habeas corpus relief on account of the Commonwealth's failure to disclose exculpatory material in a notorious murder case.

Looking to April 2

This article describes the head-counting that has begun before the veto session of the legislature, as the governor's friends and enemies try to figure out whether his vetoes of the estate tax and the "Choose Life" license plate, among others, will be upheld or outvoted on April 2.

Whoops, I was just kidding

A Hampton lawyer circulated a memo soliciting funds to fight against a local politician who would, with regard to fees for representing indigent defendants in criminal cases, "take our meal ticket and make us look like fools in the process." As written here, the memo has backfired somewhat, and is being cited in letters to judges asking them to stop giving appointments to the lawyer, who reportedly earned $50,000 in fees for court-appointed cases in a recent 12-month span.

Next, someone will intervene with an establishment clause claim

Loudon County schools have been sued for removing bricks with crosses on them from a walkway the plaintiffs claim is now a "public forum," according to this report and this report.

How to be an Appellate Advocate in Virginia

Among the Virginia law freebies that I never knew about: this paper from the Virginia State Bar on Appellate Advocacy in Virginia's appeals courts.

Bunch of copy-cats

The Kingsport Times reports here that the number of securities lawsuits against King Pharmaceuticals is at ten.

More bad publicity for VDOT

A VDOT administrator in Suffolk has been charged with soliciting kickbacks, as reported here and here.

If 90 days is too short, why go back to 21?

Governor Warner has postponed implementation of the change in the 21-day rule, according to this report. The General Assembly had passed a law allowing 90 days post-judgment for the introduction of new evidence of innocence, but the governor does not think that is enough.

Another SWVA doctor loses license

The Richmond Times has this report on a Southwest Virginia physician who surrendered her license.

Where to get a tattoo in Hopewell

Hopewell joins the list of cities with ordinances limiting who can get a tattoo (and where one can be obtained), as reported here.

It's best to fly your flag indoors in Richmond area

Here's the latest in the Henrico County neighborhood flag case - not to be confused with the Richmond city office flag flap.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Documenting the search for the Commonwealth's Attorney

In this article, the Bristol paper describes the efforts of General District Court Judge Joe Tate to obtain compliance with his order under FOIA that Sheriff Newman of Washington County must produce tape recordings of the night that the Commonwealth's Attorney was reported as a "missing person."

Multi-million dollar claim against SWVA school board for abuse by teacher

Parents of three girls in Dickenson County have sued the school system in federal court for $15 million, claiming sexual harassment and abuse by a former teacher, according to this report. The parents are represented by Roberts Moore of the Gentry Locke firm in Roanoke.

Judges are debtors, too

Last week, the Coalfield Progress printed this article on District Court Judge John Farmer's debt to the Internal Revenue Service.

Whose rates are the lowest?

The Coalfield paper has this summary of property tax rates in Southwest Virginia.

Judge Shull takes the oath

The Kingsport Times has this report on the investiture of Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Judge Mickey Shull.

Future of detention in SWVA counties

This article describes the bond issue for the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail system, which will include jails at Abingdon, Haysi, and Duffield.

Governor finishes his work

This article describes Governor Warner's changes to the budget (67 amendments) and other legislation. The "veto session" of the General Assembly is scheduled for April 2. As reported here, the governor vetoed the "Choose Life" license plate and amended the abortion statutes passed this session.

Bruce Smith's hometown paper says Tech BOV need to backtrack

The Norfolk paper opines here that the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors "would be right to rescind its action earlier this month abandoning preferences in admissions, hiring and scholarships based on race or gender."

New fire insurance exclusion in Virginia

The Alliance of American Insurers had this comment on Governor Warner's signing of a new law designed to allow insurers to exclude coverage for some kinds of terrorist-related fires.

SWVA doctor faces consequences of erratic behavior

Norton Community Hospital has obtained a stronger injunction against Dr. Pagano, according to this report. Dr. Pagano's erratic behavior has also earned him a suspension by the State Board of Medicine, as reported here.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Al Groh is no Professor Kingsfield

As reported here, U.Va. football coach Al Groh has organized a legal seminar for his players.

Who wants that old park anyway

According to this Roanoke Times story, Roanoke County could become the owner of the Explore Park.

So much to do, so little time

Today is the final day for Governor Warner to act on the legislation passed this year by the General Assembly, according to this report. Today, the governor vetoed the repeal of the estate tax, as reported here. Earlier, the governor signed the bill barring illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses, as reported here and here.

Next they'll have warm feelings about John Ashcroft

U.Va's Cavalier Daily has this editorial on the Attorney General's rejection of the Virginia Tech speaker policy, which begins with these words: "Here are five words we never thought we'd hear ourselves saying: Thank goodness for Jerry Kilgore."