Monday, January 22, 2018

Wherefore, section 20-79(c)

A standard provision of divorce decrees in Virginia is the referral, pursuant to Va. Code 20-79(c), to a Juvenile Court of matters pertaining to the modification and enforcement of the terms of the decree related to custody and visitation and child support. The Juvenile Court can be in another part of the Commonwealth. Pursuant to Va. Code 16.1-296(J), appeals from the Juvenile Court shall be taken to the Circuit Court in the same locality as the Juvenile Court, even if it is not the original Circuit Court that entered the divorce decree.

Delegate Collins, of whom I know nothing, proposed an amendment to section 20-79(c) in the 2017 session of the General Assembly, which was HB 1692. Somewhat unusually, HB 1692 was passed by the House, passed by the Senate as amended, the House rejected the amendment, a conference committee was named, the conference committee recommended a different amendment, the conference amendment passed the House but then was rejected by the Senate without a vote.

This year, Delegate Collins has proposed HB 289, which strikes me an improvement over the original bill, although it still displays a bias against the Juvenile Courts. The funny thing is, I watched the testimony last year and my good friend from Norfolk who is on the Family Law Coalition spoke in favor of last year's bill, citing the need to eliminate the redundancy of proceedings that frequently results from de novo appeals.

Both bills allow "the court," evidently the Circuit Court that entered the divorce decree, to transfer a case directly to another Circuit Court instead of to a Juvenile Court. The statute does not specify whether the transferee court can also make transfers, or whether a transfer to another Circuit Court (as opposed to a Juvenile Court) would affect the concurrent jurisdiction of the Circuit Court that entered the divorce decree.

On Blackstone's Commentaries

I've been studying on an issue about which the Supreme Court of Virginia has cited more than once the "Commentaries on the Laws of England" by William Blackstone.

Blackstone's Commentaries were written in the 1760s. The four books were the leading sourcebook for aspiring lawyers until the end of the 19th Century. Blackstone was read by John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson. "Begin with Blackstone's Commentaries," Abraham Lincoln advised in 1860.

In Howell v. McAuliffe, the Supreme Court in an opinion by the Chief Justice explained that "William Blackstone 'constituted the preeminent authority on English law for the founding generation,'" and that the Founders relied heavily on his Commentaries.

By my count, the Supreme Court of Virginia has cited Blackstone's Commentaries in Howell and in sixteen other opinions since 2011, even though the Commentaries were written more than 250 years ago. I had a hearing the other day on an issue where the other side sought to distinguish a decision from the 1950s. "That's new law in Virginia," the Circuit Court judge observed, and I agreed.

Perhaps Lincoln's advice remains sound. The text of Blackstone's Commentaries (sometimes with star paging) is available in a number of places online, including something called the Online Library of Liberty, and in Google Books.