Friday, November 08, 2013

The awesomeness of Twitter on the AG vote count developments

If you are not doing it, you should be following the back and forth over the adjustments to the vote totals including what Ben Tribbett @notlarrysabato, Dave Wasserman @redistrict, and others, particularly in regard to the "missing" Fairfax County absentee ballots described here (in the Washington Post) that if "found" would likely carry the day for Democratic candidate Mark Herring who otherwise still is trailing the Republican Mark Obenshain. 

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.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Classmate in the running for Tennessee Supreme Court

One of my William & Mary classmates, Steve Mulroy, is a candidate for the Tennessee Supreme Court. His resume is here. At one time there were Steve Marshall, Steve Minor, Steve Mister, Steve Morris, and Steve Mulroy in all of the same sections in our first year in law school.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

On the passing of Judge Karen Williams

I read here that Judge Karen Williams died at her home on Saturday, at age 62. Judge Williams served on the Fourth Circuit. She sat on almost all of the panels for the cases with the best outcomes I ever had anything to do with in appellate practice - the Arnold case, the Terwilliger case, the Cooper case, the Wiley case. I liked everything about her, like a groupie.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Thinking skeptically about thinking

One of the best books I've read in 2013 was Robert Burton's "A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves." The title was of interest when Jill was in the process of being diagnosed about why she had her car wreck back in December. The book revisits issues from the philosophy of the mind that I studied in undergraduate days, namely how can we ever figure out how the mind works when we've only got our minds to figure with. Notwithstanding the discussion of technology and philosophy, the book is accessible and interesting.

Friday, November 01, 2013

On Roy Wolfe

I understand that Roy Wolfe, the former United States Magistrate, passed away this week. He was someone I saw every day during my clerkship in Abingdon, during the last few months before his retirement. He was a good-humored man who liked to egg on Judge Williams to tell stories, even though he knew as many himself, and he thought it was hilarious that one of the demonstrators outside the courthouse hollered out "there goes the judge and his henchman" as Roy and the judge walked to a car. Evidently, he was also a lion in the courtroom, back in the day. He was a good friend to me who helped make my year at the courthouse the great experience it was.

Friday, October 04, 2013

On Martha Weisfeld

Here is an obituary in today's Bristol paper for Ms. Weisfeld, who was the publisher of the Abingdon Virginian. When I moved back to Abingdon after law school in 1989, I was walking around town with my future first wife and looked in the big glass window at her office on Courthouse Hill and she looked back and beckoned us in. She cross-examined us at some length as to who we were and what we were doing there, and I told her I was going to start working for Judge Glen Williams. She said, "oh, I love Judge Williams. He always hugs me and kisses me whenever we meet. None of the other judges do that." When I recalled this story not too long ago at the judge's memorial service, I pointed out that I could not imagine a more courageous act. Ms. Weisfeld was not shy about voicing her disapproval in her newspaper about whatever or whoever was bothering her. Judge Williams back in the day thought it was funny that she was such a big fan of his, and confessed that he had read some of what she wrote, or at least the headlines. He told me that once when he had ruled against Washington County on some issue or another, the resulting headline in Ms. Weisfeld's paper was "County Attorney Screws Up Again." She was very nice to us, the one time we spoke at length, and no one who knew her at all will ever forget her.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Senator targets the Conference

In this article, Senator Coburn from Oklahoma complains about the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference being held at the Greenbrier. Obviously, I disagree with his view of the value of the event, and hope to attend it many more times.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer of fun

The youngest in our house declared that this would be her summer of fun.

For me, the most fun this summer outside of time with the family was time with my lawyer friends - in their homes, and at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference, events for the new judges, even events for Jill's library. The last of the swearings-in is today, when Eric Thiessen is made a judge of the General District Court, with my friends Roy Jessee and Jim Hodges speaking on his behalf. Previously, there were the events for Circuit Court Judge Deanis Simmons and Juvenile Court Judge Kurt Pomrenke, my long-time friend and co-worker and occasional co-conspirator in fun, as we saw the Virginia Cavaliers lose a lot of ball games together (and win some, too). I never had more fun at the Judicial Conference than I did this year, never saw more judges singing and dancing even in the absence of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist. I used to feel like an impostor there, with so many fancy people, and yet there are so many people there whom I am delighted to see. It is an occasion for the retelling of the very kind of stories that I most enjoy collecting.

These gatherings, combined with the 30th Circuit bench-bar event, the VSB event in Abingdon, and the memorial for Judge Williams, make it seem like in the past few months I have reconnected with almost all of the lawyers, and especially the Southwest Virginia lawyers, whom I have known these many years.

Miss K seems to have had the summer she wanted, including most recently her week at camp on the New River.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Blast from the past

The new quarterback recruit who just signed to play at Virginia Tech had Jim Cantafio as his high school coach - as did I. Coach Cantafio has won more than 250 games since he started at the old high school in 1980.

New takes on the judicial conference

This year, I tried to explain to Erin that we were going to an event that would include the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. To make sense of it to her, I said that "he is like the Lebron James of judges." She got my meaning.

Jill asked me what was the hashtag on Twitter for the event. I didn't know. I don't think anyone was tweeting from the Greenbrier, although the AP article on the Chief Justice's remarks showed up while we were having lunch a few minutes after the conference had ended.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Keeping score

In this week's opinions, the Supreme Court

1. Somewhat cracked down on affirmative action, in the Fisher case (7-1 vote),

2. Somewhat made it more difficult to employee plaintiffs to win in Title VII cases, in the Nassar case (5-4), and the Vance case (5-4),

3. Somewhat made it more difficult to sue drug manufacturers for bad products, in the Bartlett case (5-4),

4. Somewhat struck down the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County case (5-4),

5. Somewhat cracked down on impact fees, in the Koontz case (5-4),

6. Somewhat cracked down on the Indian Child Welfare Act in the Baby Girl case (5-4),

7. Cracked down on DOMA, in the Windsor case (5-4),

8. Punted on Proposition 8 in the California case (5-4),

9. Overturned an extortion conviction in the Sekhar case (9-0).

What do all these cases have in common? I have no idea, other than that Justice Kennedy wins again. Probably the right won more than it lost - the impact fee case, the voting rights case, the products liability case, the Title VII cases, and the affirmative action cases sound like big victories for the right. Perhaps the experts will explain it all this weekend at the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference, which you can watch live on C-SPAN on Saturday morning. The conference is at the Greenbrier as in 2011.

The Virginia Constitution of 1902 and the Voting Rights Act

The Virginia Bar Association is a product of the Progressive era. Forward-thinking lawyers joined together to promote the highest ideals of the profession. Many of the same lawyers who were leaders in the Bar Association were also delegates to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901.

The Virginia Constitution of 1902 contained some remarkably progressive elements - for Virginia. It established the State Corporation Commission as an independent rate-setting entity for the railroads and public utilities. It incorporated an express Double Jeopardy clause.

It also sought to take the right to vote away from black Virginians. In this effort, the new constitution was a success. Black voting was suppressed for decades. At the distance of barely more than 100 years, it is troubling to think that the best and the brightest of Virginia's lawyers worked so carefully and intentionally to prevent black voters from voting.

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment was adopted in 1964, prohibiting the poll tax in federal elections. The Supreme Court did not rule until 1966, in a Virginia case, that the poll tax was illegal as a violation of Equal Protection in state elections. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court held in the Shelby County case that the premises of the Voting Rights Act could no longer support the imposition on certain states of the burden of pre-approval for all voting law changes. The commentary I have read is full of the view that racism remains a fact of life for millions of Americans.

There has been a reversal, however, between 1901 and the attitudes of the legal elite. I have never met a lawyer who would say in private the outrageous things that Virginia's best lawyers were saying proudly on the record in 1901. Black voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout for the first time in 2012. Whether the Chief Justice got it right or wrong in his conclusions, I agree that a fundamental change has taken place since 1902, that is not going to change back. There will not ever be another Virginia constitutional convention for the express purpose of keeping racial minorities from voting.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New bankruptcy judge for the W.D. Va.

In today's email:

"The United States District Court and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia take great pleasure in announcing that Paul Markham Black has been designated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, subject to satisfactory completion of standard background checks, to succeed William F. Stone, Jr. as United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Virginia at Roanoke, Virginia. Mr. Black, a native of Roanoke who graduated from Northside High School, received his undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University in 1982 and his law degree from the T. C. Williams School of Law of the University of Richmond in 1985. He then served as law clerk to the Honorable Blackwell N. Shelley, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia at Richmond. After practicing law in Richmond for several years with the firm of Mays & Valentine, he returned to Roanoke in 1991 to join the law firm of Melchionna, Day, Ammar & Black, P.C. Since then, his practice has involved representation of clients in the United States District Court and United States Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern and Western District of Virginia as well as numerous Virginia state courts. Currently, Mr. Black is a member of the firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle, PLLC in Roanoke, where he is co-chair of the firm's bankruptcy and creditors' rights practice group. Since 2007, he has served as a member of the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board. Mr. Black lives in Roanoke, Virginia with his wife. They have three daughters. The term of the appointment will be fourteen years, and Mr. Black is expected to take the bench during the latter part of this year or the beginning of 2014."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I like RealClearPolitics

The No. 1 reason why I look at the RealClearPolitics web page almost every day is the juxtaposition of links to opposing or somewhat opposing views, such as these:

Item 1: Obama Readying Emissions Limits on Power Plants. This story describes how the Obama Administration is working as quickly as it can on the complicated task of promulgating regulations that will curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

Item 2: Climate Expert von Storch: Why Is Global Warming Stagnating? This worthwhile interview includes the frank acknowledgement by one of the leading climate change experts that if global warming does not pick up again in the next five years, after fifteen years of little change despite increasing carbon emissions, the scientists will have to acknowledge, without abandoning their general thesis that man-made emissions affect the climate, that their models were wrong and recognize that either they have overestimated the connection between man-made emissions and global warming or underestimated the effects of other natural phenomena that affect the weather.

Over at RealClearEnergy, there was Item 3: King Coal Leaves America for Europe, which begins with reference to the fact that U.S. coal exports have reached record levels, and concludes that "[g]reen energy policy has been a catastrophic failure in Europe, hampering the continent’s global competitiveness without making the continent any greener."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Ephrata

In Teleguz v. Pearson, the petitioner has raised as one of the factual issues in support of his actual innocence that a witness gave testimony that the petitioner killed a man in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, but in fact there was no such murder. Judge Jones ruled in the opinion that since it was stipulated that there was no such murder, there was no need for discovery on that point.

Apropos of nothing, I have been to Ephrata many times, it is still home of the Hilltop Restaurant, where my high school girlfriend's mom asked me thirty years and a couple of months ago, "you're not going to ask her to the prom, are you?"

Hearsay in the W.D. Va.

Judge Jones of the W.D. Va. has written two recent opinions in which important hearsay evidence was kept out of the case.

In Electro-Mechanical Corp. v. Power Distribution Products, Inc., the Court excluded the minutes of a meeting between the plaintiff and a potential customer, finding that the substance of the document along with the timing of when it was created "indicated a lack of trustworthiness," in the language of the business records exception to the hearsay rule, FRE 803(6).

In U.S. v. Benko, where Mr. Benko is accused of lying about something someone else did, and that someone else made a statement that he never did it, Mr. Benko is out of luck in trying to get that evidence admitted because the declarant has invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify, the Court cannot require the government to give him immunity and make him testify, and the out-of-court statement is not admissible as a statement against interest under FRE 804(3) because the statement lacked "corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness."

These opinions excluding highly relevant evidence because it was too obviously self-serving to the point of unbelievability are a far cry from what Magistrate Judge Roy Wolfe described to me as the only evidentiary rule of the Western District, "let it in for what it's worth," which I heard from the bench only once in an actual case.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On FOIA and the Attorney General

My old blog friend Waldo Jaquith has been in the news lately in connection with the claim stated on a response he received from the Virginia Attorney General that Virginia's Freedom of Information Act may not apply at all to the Attorney General, citing the 2011 decision by the Virginia Supreme Court in Christian v. State Corporation Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court gave three reasons why, despite the broad definition of "public body" in FOIA, the State Corporation Commission was not included. One of those reasons was the idea that the SCC derives its authority to act from the Virginia Constitution, rather than the legislature, suggesting sort of a separation-of-powers issue. The Court cited Connell v. Kersey, a 2001 case in which the Court held that a Commonwealth's Attorney was not subject to FOIA, explaining that the language of FOIA refers only to "entities to which responsibility to conduct the business of the people is delegated by legislative or executive action. By contrast, a Commonwealth's Attorney derives his or her authority from the Constitution." Along somewhat similar lines, the Court held in Taylor v. Worrell Enterprises, that the Governor could not be required by legislative act to provide certain records.

Interestingly, the General Assembly took action to overrule Connell, by chapter 393 of the 2002 Acts of the Assembly, which amended the definition of "public body" with the addition of this sentence: "For the purposes of the provisions of this chapter applicable to access to public records, constitutional officers shall be considered public bodies and, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, shall have the same obligations to disclose public records as other custodians of public records." In this act, the General Assembly expressly declared its intent to "address the recent Virginia Supreme Court holding in the case styled Connell v. Kersey, which held that attorneys for the Commonwealth are not 'public bodies' as defined in the Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.), by clarifying that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applies to constitutional officers and providing an exemption for attorneys for the Commonwealth." It is not obvious to me how the separation-of-powers rationale from Connell survives this amendment as to whatever is included within the term, "constitutional officers." In cases such as Blair v. Marye, 80 Va. 485 (1885), the Supreme Court has explained that the Attorney General is a "constitutional officer." In addition, the Supreme Court has already held that the Virginia Constitution "unequivocally permits the General Assembly to prescribe the duties of the Attorney General." Wilder v. Attorney Gen. of Virginia, 247 Va. 119, 127, 439 S.E.2d 398, 403 (1994). Unlike the SCC, FOIA includes several exemptions that expressly reference the records of the Attorney General.

In fact, the Attorney General never used the legal argument that his office is not subject to FOIA to avoid responding to FOIA requests, and has now abandoned that argument altogether. The Christian case provided a good-faith basis for raising the point, but it is not obvious that the weight of authority would place the Attorney General in the position of the SCC as opposed to other "constitutional officers."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The memorial for Judge Williams

Thanks to Judge Pam Sargent and all others who made possible the memorial yesterday afternoon for Judge Williams, and to Chief Judge Conrad, Judge Sargent, Judge Birg Sergent, Ronnie Montgomery, Joe Wolfe, David Harless, Randy Ramseyer, Jack White, and Don Williams for their words. I was glad to get a chance to speak about the Judge once more.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What the Supreme Court said about whether a tomato is a vegetable

Last night I caught the tail end of the seed library presentation at the library in Abingdon and one of the seed people said that a tomato is botanically a fruit but the Supreme Court has ruled that it is a vegetable. So, of course, I had to look up the case, which is Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 309 (1893). The issue before the Court in Nix was whether the tax collector for the Port of New York could collect a federal tax on imported "vegetables in their natural state" with respect to imported tomatoes, where the tax did not apply to "fruit." The opinion was written by Justice Gray, who preceded Justice Holmes on the Court and had a similar background as a well-to-do Bostonian who had served on the appeals court in Massachusetts.

Justice Gray wrote that the terms "fruit" and "vegetables" did not have any special meanings, that the Court was bound to take judicial notice of their ordinary meanings, that dictionary definitions were not evidence but aids to the "memory and understanding of the Court" regarding the ordinary meanings, and that while "[b]otanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas," nevertheless, "in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert." And so, a tomato is a vegetable, because of how we talk about it when we eat it, regardless of what the scientists say - and the tax collector wins. Surely, my old professor David Yalden-Thomson would have approved of this analysis, as he believed the most profound sentence ever written was that "the meaning of a word its use." The Nix case is sometimes cited for its use of dictionaries.

Referencing the Court's decision, this article makes the case for tomatoes as dessert. If tomato tarts and tomato yogurt took the notion by storm, would a tomato then become a fruit as that term was used in subsequent legislation? I wonder. Pictured below are what I think are some of what are my dad's favorite tomato, the Pink Lady.

Monday, May 06, 2013

On joining up with Bearing Drift

Norm Leahy has included me in the latest crop of new contributors to Bearing Drift, describing me as "[o]ne of the grand old men of the Virginia blogosphere." As long as I have been a blog writer, I have been a blog reader, and the Bearing Drift contributors include several grand old men and women of the Virginia blogosphere whose words I have pondered for many years. Thank you for the invitation.

Friday, May 03, 2013

On the black dog syndrome

I have read from time to time of the Black Dog Syndrome, which is probably a myth. It is interesting to think about why would there be a preference for or against a dog of a particular color, and how could it ever be proven. This topic is also of interest because of the three dogs I have owned since 1991, Ladybug (2010 - present), Chrissy (1991 - 2006), and Jenna (2007-2008).

Comparing law and science

I have been studying this article titled "The Law of Physics & the Physics of Laws," by Judge Kelsey, published in 2012 in the Regent University Law Review, in which he endeavors to "rake through the ashes of science (as well as some of its hot coals)" in the pursuit of "symmetries that reinforce our understanding of the law."

In the first section, titled "An Underlying Order," he points to the historical view of common law scholars that the law like sciences derived from universal truths, that were capable of being discovered incrementally through the process of deciding individual cases. It brings to mind the concept from Revolutionary times, that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," that were natural laws that preceded the institutions of the legislatures and the courts. It also makes me think of the dismissal by Justice Holmes and other "legal realists" of the validity of the quest for natural law.

The second section makes interesting comparisons between the physical laws of inertia and the doctrine of stare decisis, and also between Newton's law of motion and the adversary system. He suggests that judicial precedents have "mass," that consist of "the strength of judicial consensus on the truth of the precedent and the longevity of its journey over time," that must be overcome for the law to change, and that absent sufficient force for change to overcome this mass, the precedents will "simply move from age to age along their original trajectories." He also suggests that the adversary system in its reliance on the concept that "truth can best be found in the competing contest between opposing forces" corresponds with the Newtonian concept that "all forces in come in pairs."

The third section compares the difficulty of categorizing and determining the truth, in law and in science. He compares the difficulty of scientists in characterizing the nature of light with the challenge for lawyers of drawing the line between law and equity - a task which continues into the modern age, for example, where there is an issue of the right to a jury trial. He concludes with the problem of "doubt," in science and the law, which seems to me the most interesting of these several points - how do we overcome the problem of knowing what is true, when the quest for truth itself may obscure the truth? The priority of the opposing parties is to win the case, with the result that " lawyers and jurists alike have known for centuries that irrefutable truth is almost always, if not invariably, garbled by the exercise of discovering it."

This article seems like the introduction to a seminar on the philosophy or history of law, the sort of class that I signed up for whenever I could, back in the day, when I had professors like John Simmons and Charles McCurdy.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

On launching out into the deepest waters

A few days ago, Mitt Romney gave the commencement address at Southern Virginia University, as shown here, and advised the graduates to go out into the deep waters, like Jesus instructed Peter and the other fishermen. In particular, he told them to get married and have children. I can't say that I was trying to keep up with Romney, but I jumped into the deep end in 2011 and married Jill and started living with four step-children, three of them girls. My biggest regret to date is that the oldest - the prom girl in red with her old step-dad - will be gone from our house all too soon, but then again Romney in the same speech declared that is the "new American Dream," getting the children out of the house you own. It has been a few years since I last posed with a high school senior.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On whether a man be an idiot or not

In Ingram v. Com., the Virginia Court of Appeals in a published opinion by Judge Kelsey, joined by Judge McCullough and Senior Judge Haley, disposed of Mr. Ingram's claim that he was entitled to a jury trial on the claim that he should be required involuntarily to undergo psychiatric treatment. In reject Ingram's claim, Judge Kelsey noted the following:

"Though wholly unrelated to claims for monetary damages, the ancient common law writ of 'de idiota inquirendo' authorized juries to 'inquire whether a man be an idiot or not' and, if so, to transfer 'the profits of his lands and the custody of his person' to the king or his designee. 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Law of England *303. A similar writ could be issued against a 'non compos mentis,' described in the common law as a mere 'lunatic' who 'by disease, grief, or other accident, hath lost the use of his reason' yet still has 'lucid intervals.' Id. at *304.

These common law writs, however, have little in common with a Code § 37.2-1101 proceeding."

Many is the case in which it might have been asked whether I or other counsel or a litigant or witness whether he "be an idiot or not."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Today Provo, tomorrow the world

This article explains how Google plans to take over wireless internet access from the telcos, one Google Fiber home at a time.

On Judge Lynn Brown

The Johnson City paper has this entertaining story on the retirement of Judge Lynn Brown from Northeast Tennessee.

One of those stories told was this: "Another memorable case was the two murder trials of Steven Allen Jones, who was convicted both times . . . . Jones became enraged after the second conviction and Brown ordered him gagged. The bailiffs used defense attorney Gene Scott’s spare tie as the gag."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On backdating

I heard of a case not too long ago where someone raised a fuss about a transaction where documents were "backdated." Backdating is surely neither good nor bad in itself without more facts, such as the intent to deceive or the opposite. Dealing broadly with this topic is this interesting article published in the ABA's Business Lawyer in 2008, which you can download for free from SSRN.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On appeals from district court to circuit court

With the elimination of the Circuit Court's removal jurisdiction and the increased jurisdictional limit for actions in General District Court, it seems like more complicated cases get tried in District Court than was the case when I was a young lawyer and anything with much complexity was removed. Clients of lesser means have no choice but to fight out the case in District Court, because a losing defendant generally cannot appeal without posting a bond as required by Va. Code 16.1-107.

We have seen from time to time, for example, the circumstance where the plaintiff in District Court sues more than one defendant. What is the effect of an appeal if the plaintiff gets a judgment against one defendant but not the other? Is it possible, for example, for the plaintiff to appeal as to the one defendant but not the other? The answer in the opinions I have seen is no, the nature of the de novo review in Circuit Court means that the whole case with all parties is appealed, and the appellant must take the bitter with the sweet and face retrial as to every issue and every party. See Khan v. Washington, 74 Va. Cir. 95 (City of Alexandria Cir. Ct. 2007) ("the appropriate circuit court has appellate jurisdiction over all the parties to the pending case"); Hansen v. McFarland, 27 Va. Cir. 383 (City of Richmond Cir. Ct. 1992) ("an appeal by any party of a district court decision serves to give an appropriate circuit court appellate jurisdiction over any other party against who such an appeal is perfected"); Nanney v. Navy Car Storage, Inc., 7 Va. Cir. 397 (City of Norfolk Cir. Ct. 1969) (defendant "is entitled not only to a review of plaintiff's judgment against it but also the finding of the court in favor of the [other] defendant . . . "); Grinnell Fire Protection Systems Co. v. Sills, 3 Va. Cir. 489 (City of Alexandria Cir. Ct. 1979) (holding that the appeal from General District Court "brings the entire case and all of the defendants" before the circuit court).

Suppose the plaintiff decides the appeal was a mistake? Claims before a Circuit Court for de novo review on appeal from a District Court can be non-suited, but then can only be refiled in the same Circuit Court. Davis v. County of Fairfax, 282 Va. 23, 710 S.E.2d 466 (2011). The effect of the nonsuit would be that the district court judgment is lost, as if the case had never been filed. He can withdraw his appeal, subject to the provisions of Va. Code 16.1-106.1. Section 16.1-106.1 deals separately with appeals from general district court and from juvenile and domestic relations district court, but the gist is that the circuit court is supposed to dispose of the appeal consistent with the district court judgment.

Suppose a defendant brings the appeal? A defendant cannot take a nonsuit. “Nonsuit remains,” the Supreme Court has explained, “distinctly a weapon in the arsenal of a plaintiff.” Trout v. Commonwealth Transp. Com'r of Virginia, 241 Va. 69, 73, 400 S.E.2d 172, 174 (1991). An appellant who is not a plaintiff cannot nonsuit an appeal. See Anonymous C v. Anonymous B, Record No. 2232-09-2, 2011 WL 65957 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 11, 2011). The defendant who appeals to Circuit Court can only seek to withdraw the appeal.

Monday, February 04, 2013

News of the General Assembly session

I can't say that I was paying too much attention to this year's session of the General Assembly, before the redistricting maneuver in the Senate and the proposed electoral college bill sponsored by our own Senator Carrico became part of the national discussion that percolated down to my attention.

Evidently, there is a lot going on, and here is some of what I have been missing:

1. Some legislators want the DMV to study putting barcodes and/or RFIDs on license plates, as reported here. The summary of the DMV report is here. Maybe by the time the youngest step-daughter is driving, if she stays out too late I can just call up the DMV to tell me where she is, if they are tracking us all by then.

2. The Rutherford Institute is backing proposed legislation to lessen the regulatory burden on homeowners and small farm owners who want to raise food for themselves and their friends, as shown here. We have a can of unlicensed green beans at the house, I hope that is not a problem.

3. The City of Bristol is pushing a new law to allow it to recoup its investment in the new construction at Exit 5 through the sales tax from the new stores in that area, as shown here. I hope that the stores get built and the City gets its money back.

4. The newspaper trade association is opposing legislation that would allow localities to publish notices online instead of the classified ads in newspapers, as shown here. I guess they will agree the time has come for this change when there are no more printed newspapers. Coincidentally, the Cavalier Daily announced that it would discontinue its printed daily edition after 130 years.

5. Tazewell County have established a ridgeline protection ordinance to keep out wind power generation, a senator from the Tidewater is proposing a state law that would preempt the county ordinance, and the Bluefield paper is opposed, as shown here. The bill was stricken.

6. The Virginia Bar Association has endorsed a bill that would permit the members of a limited liability company to provide in their operating agreement that assigned membership interests would have the power to participate in the management of the LLC, which change would overrule the Supreme Court's holding in Ott v. Monroe. In the Ott case, the interest passed on the death of a member, and the Court held that the transferee had no management rights, notwithstanding the express language of the operating agreement between the members.

7. The General Assembly appears be on track to end the criminalization of cohabitation. I think this will finally overrule the "public policy" behind the Mitchem case, which has bothered me for years.

8. The General Assembly reappointed the first openly gay member of the judiciary, and might act against discrimination in state employment. It is absurd to think that anyone would tolerate discrimination that would exclude good people willing to serve in the public sector.

9. Senator Northam proposes to criminalizes smoking with children in the car. The bill has passed the Senate.

10. The House of Delegates rejected the views of Governor McDonnell and others in refusing to allow the restoration of civil rights to non-violent felons. This was a mistake that will fuel the perception that Republicans are out to keep non-Republicans from voting any way they can.

11. The Virginia Senate has passed the soccer goal safety act, for the purpose of keeping goals from falling on children Unrelated to this, the House has passed legislation regarding the participation of home-schoolers in interscholastic sports.

12. The General Assembly confirmed the reappointment of Helen Dragas, which seems ridiculous to me - some things aren't worth trying a second time. Unrelated to this, the Virginia Senate refused to agree to legislation that would allow the hunting of fast-moving, sharp-toothed beasts on Sundays.

13. The House Courts of Justice committee passed a bill that would prohibit the use of drones by state or local law enforcement in Virginia until 2014 or 2015.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No foolish consistency required

In Farmer v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Court of Appeals in a decision by the panel of Judges Humphreys, Kelsey, and Beales rejected the argument made by a criminal defendant that the Commonwealth violated his constitutional guarantee of Due Process by prosecuting him on a theory that was inconsistent with the Commonwealth's theory of the same crime in an earlier case against someone else that resulted in a conviction. In between the two cases, new DNA test results indicated that the second defendant, and not the first, was the principal in the first degree. The decision refused to follow the "overly broad holding" in Smith v. Groose, 205 F.3d 1045 (8th Cir. 2000).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fun fact of the day

"Coal-fired generation in the United States increased 6.2 percent compared to November 2011. This was the first year-over-year increase since coal-fired generation increased 0.5 percent from December 2009 to December 2010." - U.S. Energy Information Administration, monthly update for January 2013.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Opinions like this are worrisome

Here, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal on finding a failure to preserve error, where the defendant at the trial argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment, making some argument about whether the stolen property in his backyard was in "plain view," but the Court concluded his argument to the trial court did not match his argument to the appeals courts and he did not "cite any cases" in the trial court that dealt with the particular aspect of the "plain view" doctrine that he sought to raise in the appeals court.

Any time an appeal raising constitutional issues is dismissed because of what case law the trial counsel cited or did not cite, I have to wonder what's going on. In my opinion, it is not necessary to cite any cases to comply with Rule 5A:18.

More on "pleaded" v. "pled"

The ABA Journal had this piece on whether the preferred usage is "pleaded" as opposed to "pled." In 2008, I wrote this post, noting that one local judge frequently goes both ways in the same opinions.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Subsidizing NASCAR?

This article in the New York Times reports on the continuation of a statute allowing accelerated depreciation of investments in NASCAR and other auto racing tracks.

On Judge Williams

This post contains the text of a speech I gave about Judge Glen Williams in 2002. I went to his funeral a few weeks ago and did nothing really to comfort anyone, absorbed instead with my own thoughts about how my own life has been affected by having him as an employer, mentor, and friend. There have been many times when I have tried to get through the dilemmas of the moment by asking myself what would he think, how would this argument work with him, would this make sense to him. Sometimes I went so far as to call him up and ask him directly, but even when I did not, I could hear his voice in my head: "Steve, all in the world there is to this . . . ." I'm glad he is past the sufferings of age and illness, but I will miss him for the rest of my days.

On the need for more discovery in criminal cases in Virginia

The Washington Post had this recent editorial, which concluded that Virginia law should be changed to allow for wider rights of discovery for defendants in criminal cases.

It says in part: "A proposal by Virginia defense lawyers would compel prosecutors to grant defendants and their attorneys readier access to police reports following indictments, including witness statements in the aftermath of alleged crimes. That seems reasonable, provided that prosecutors are able to withhold the identity of certain witnesses out of concern for their safety."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Latest in a long line of wrongful wrongful discharge cases

In VanBuren v. Grubb, the Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision held that individuals other than an employer can be liable in tort for wrongful discharge. The decision makes a major change in Virginia law for the purpose, it seems, of making sure that bad apples like Dr. Grubb get to be punished in court.

The history in Virginia of wrongful discharge claims based on sex discrimination is complex. At one time, Virginia plaintiffs based wrongful discharge claims on the public policy against employment discrimination contained in the Virginia Human Rights Act. The VHRA prohibits employment discrimination based on "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability." Va. Code § 2.1-715. A divided Supreme Court recognized a wrongful discharge claim based on the VHRA. See Lockhart v. Commonwealth Educ. Sys. Corp., 247 Va. 98, 439 S.E.2d 328 (1994). In response, the General Assembly deliberately modified the VHRA, to rule out any claims based not only on the VHRA itself but on any other statute reflecting the same policies as the VHRA. Va. Code § 2.1-725(D). The Supreme Court applied the amendment as the legislature intended in dismissing a number of wrongful discharge claims See Conner v. National Pest Control Ass'n, 257 Va. 286, 513 S.E.2d 398 (1999); Doss v. Jamco, 254 Va. 362, 492 S.E.2d 441 (1997).

The plaintiff in Mitchem v. Counts claimed that she was discharged because she refused to engage in unlawful sex with her employer. She based her claim not on the public policy against discrimination in employment, but rather on the public policy supporting the criminal statutes prohibiting assault and fornication. Another divided court approved this reasoning, despite the transparency of the plaintiff's rationale as a means to avoid the clearly expressed intention of the legislature in the amendments to the VHRA. In Mitchem, the majority reasoned that the public policy against fornication and other unlawful sexual acts stood separate and apart from the public policy reflected in the VHRA. The three dissenting justices pointed out that plaintiff's claim was no more or less than the type of claim outlawed by the legislature following Lockhart, and chastised the majority for overstepping the bounds of judicial authority in precisely the manner Justice Hassell recognized as improper in his concurring opinion in the Conner case.

Some years later, in Martin v. Ziherl, the Virginia Supreme Court overruled its decision in Zysk v. Zysk and held that a Virginia plaintiff is not prohibited by the illegality of fornication from suing his or her partner for giving him or her venereal disease. I complained about this decision at the time, but concluded that "this Martin case is officially the death of at least part of the much-maligned Mitchem decision, the wrongful discharge case based on the fornication statute." See Torabipour v. Cosi, Inc., 1:11-CV-1392 GBL/TCB, 2012 WL 2153168 (E.D. Va. June 12, 2012) ("The Court holds Plaintiff Torabipour fails to state a claim for wrongful termination because section 18.2–344 has been invalidated under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.").

Evidently I was wrong. Notwithstanding Martin, the Court in VanBuren had no problem concluding that "lewd and lascivious cohabitation" remains an enforceable crime in the Commonwealth. This seems like a surprising outcome to me - if someone was actually prosecuted for "lewd and lascivious cohabitation," it seems likely to me based on Martin that the crime of cohabitation would go the way of the crime of fornication in the Commonwealth. The theory of Mitchem fails once the criminal statutes on which it is based "have been invalidated." The Eastern District has rejected this argument, however - see Mercado v. Lynnhaven Lincoln-Mercury, Inc., 2:11CV145, 2011 WL 5027486 (E.D. Va. Oct. 21, 2011) (refusing to find the cohabitation statute unconstitutional) - and evidently now the Virginia Supreme Court has, too.