08 February 2009

Snow Delays, The Secret Service, and The Wise Contingent:
The Saga of The CrimLaw CLE

All us legal folks are required to go to "Continuing Legal Education" (CLE) seminars for 12 hours a year (2 of which must be in "ethics" training). Of course, nobody comes out to God's Country here in the mountains to put on any of the major CLE's, so we either drive down among the flatlanders or watch videos or arrange our own CLE's. Having not been down to the flatlands since moving up here, and needing several hours of credit, I decided to go to the Williamsburg for the Bar's annual Criminal Law CLE.

So, I send in the money for the CLE and reserve a room at the swanky hotel the Bar holds this thing at. The plan was that I'd leave Wednesday right after work and travel 4 hours east to about Roanoke and then hunker down for the night before traveling the next 4-5 hours on Thursday (visiting people along the way). Of course, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy and Tuesday night/Wednesday morning is the worst snow storm I've seen since I've been here. The courts were closed Wednesday, so theoretically I could have left early but when I tested the roads out at about 1 p.m. I still had to use 4 wheel drive and decided I wasn't traveling until Thursday.

Thursday: I wake at 4 a.m. so I can get an early start. Throwing my old parachute bag full of clothes in the car, I go make sure that the dogs have a huge trough of food and another one of water do they'll be okay for the next couple days. Then I get in the trusty Jeep Cherokee and leave about 6:15. The roads are clear enough that I get over the Jenkins Mountain Death Trap which just about did me in Tuesday night and I plugged in my Creative Zen and turned on the AudioBook I downloaded specifically for this journey (The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam). The I drove and drove and drove and drove and drove . . .

About 7 hours later I pulled into Powhatan and went to visit and, about 45 minutes later, I showed up at the door of the Chesterfield County courthouse. Then, after going back to my car to unnecessarily return my mp3 player to my car (I'd already left my blackberry, personal cell phone, leatherman, machete and machine gun in my vehicle before going to the courthouse door and learning that my mp3 player was such a terrible security risk), I dropped by to visit people I hadn't seen in a couple years. I picked up the latest gossip (1 & 2) and said "hi" to everybody I knew. Then it was back to the road for another couple hours.

Finally, I pull up to a Marriot which is where my directions led me. They're kind enough to tell me I'm at the wrong place and direct me to the next Marriot down the way (a block further along). When I get there the parking lot is filled with nice, gleaming, new cars. I park my 11 year old Jeep, still covered with all the salt and muck it had picked up in the mountains as I drove out. I notice two news vans parked there with their antennaes up. Then I see the police car parked by the front entrance and the officer standing in the lobby. I enter the lobby, check in, and pay cash up front. Then I go out to my car and get my clothes. On the way back in I ask the doorman what's going on. He tells me that Obama is doing something up the street and the news can't get their vans any closer and the officer is here to keep an eye on things.

Great, I'm here in a beat-up, muck-covered Jeep that sticks out in the parking lot like a sore thumb, I just paid in cash for my room, I'm carrying an old Army surplus parachute bag, and I'm from the one part of the United States which voted 99% against Obama. Visions of Secret Service agents bursting in my door at 3 a.m. begin dancing in my head. Anyway, I shake it off and go up to my room. On the way up I see another police officer patrolling the halls. I come back down to get a snack and there are 6 officers and a dog walking through the lobby. I get my snacks and head back up.

A little after 6 I head back down for the reception set up for those here for the CLE. The room is almost empty and the people in the room whom I know are people I know of, not people with whom I ever sat down and had a conversation with. I grab a beer drink it and head back to my room. On the way, I spot two plain clothes guys standing in the hallway and some political types standing around in the lobby. The politico's appeared to be handing out "homemade" Obama=Change signs to younger kids who are going wherever Obama is. After staying in the room for another half hour, I make another run by the reception and the people there haven't changed much so I head back to the room. See another guy in the lobby who didn't fit in, but couldn't figure out if he was political or plain clothes. Get back to the room and decided to call it a night.

The room is nice enough, but there's nothing on TV. Going out is undoubtedly going to be a nightmare because I don't know Williamsburg and we're obviously close enough to Obama that parts of the City are going to be locked down. Which leaves the Internet. However, when I go to log in they want $9.99. This hotel, which is charging me - even with the Bar discount - an amount of money which would have put me up for 3 days at a Red Roof Inn an hour down the road (with free Internet), wants me to pay for Internet. Nope. Not happening. Instead, I turn in early.

Which, of course, means I wake up at 3:30. I finally fight my way back to sleep about 5:00 (my normal wake-up time), knowing the alarm in the room is set for 6:00. When I awaken, it's 7:00. The cheapo alarm clock furnished by the hotel went off so low that I slept right through it (someone had set the sound all the way down). Still, no rush. I get up, prep and head down to the CLE. I don't even bother to go get breakfast because every time I've gone to this particular CLE they've always laid out food and a variety of drinks before the CLE. Except this time. This time the only thing they've seen fit to lay out is cofee. Still, there's time for me to run down to the little shop in the hotel lobby and pay a gazillion dollars for a Rice Krispies treat, banana, and bagel (two bites of which reminded me why I dislike bagels). Then I finally, head back to the conference.

Once seated in the room, I fire up my trusty portable computer. Surely, a place set up specifically for conferences in a modern era will have free Internet as part of the services provided. NOPE. So, instead of live blogging the CLE, I end up tweeting portions of it.

First, we get told about all the legal changes over the last year. No major ones that I hadn't already caught, but it's a good review (always the most useful part of this CLE). Then came a section on collateral effects of a criminal conviction on aliens. What did I take away from this section? If you're a defense attorney and your client is an alien, call an immigration attorney because you will never be able to figure out the morass that is immigration law. The third section was a painful section about evidence which was mostly not helpful. Federal rules DO NOT HELP VIRGINIA LAWYERS. We have common law rules and, despite what professors and others might think, 90% of us don't spend time in federal court. There was a Virginia judge who was giving useful counterpoints as to Virginia law (except one point where they through a question as to whether a conviction for possession of cocaine could be used to impeach; the answer was "no" in federal court and I think the judge wasn't listening because he agreed that the result would be the same when they asked him about Virginia courts). Toward the end the Virginia judge had part of the time to himself and that was more useful.

Then came lunch, It was a typical conference lunch with a typical conference speaker. The defense attorney/US Representative regaled us with poetry, stories, and why putting anybody in jail is just plain evil. It's the same speech, different presenter at each and every one of these things. I've yet to see a law and order type get invited to speak at these things.

So, we go back to the conference room. Next comes the ethics part of the program. This merits a post all of its very own and shall get one for tomorrow. Some people get up and leave after this section, knowing they are now legally ethical. However, a large majority stay. Craig Cooley walks up to the podium to give a talk about ten things to remember for a jury trial. Cooley is simply amazing. Anyone else could have put those points together, delivered a similar talk, and been summarily ignored. After all, who pays attention to the after lunch sessions? Cooley stands up there and the crowd is hanging off his every word. Now, I get this with those of us who started practice after the Cooley mythos became ingrained in Virginia legal circles, but it's not just us. His contemporaries are deferential as well. In a profession where so many people tear each other down, I've not seen any other lawyer treated with that much respect.

When Cooley finishes half the crowd leaves. The final speakers are a judge, an assistant prosecutor, and David Baugh. Baugh's another legend of the Virginia Bar, although not necessarily as beloved of one. He is memorable for his audacious, smart and loud defense work; one of the things everybody remembers is that he was the lawyer in the Morrisey fight (wasn't there, but suspect he'd have won). My first memory of David Baugh is being at a CLE as a young lawyer and having him tell all of us that if we had'nt yet been found in contempt and spent time in jail we weren't real defense attorneys. He seems to have mellowed somewhat over the years, but he was clearly the big gun at the table. The three of them spend an hour telling us that we should be asking more questions during voir dire, which is something I'm sure my circuit court judge will be just thrilled to hear. Not an extremely helpful section except for one thing: they gave us the cite to the Virginia case which states that the "If I tell you the law will you be able to follow it?" are improper and may not be asked by the judge. Good knowledge to have.

Finally, I go back out to my Jeep and head West. I listen to more of The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam as I drive 3.5 hours to impose myself overnight on a friend in Powhatan. We (He, hiw wife, and I are all crimlaw attorneys) trade war stories and the next morning his wife and he pile into their car and I jump into my Jeep and we head out to Bedford County to visit the D-Day memorial. Two hours later we're there and walk around checking the place out. It's a well done memorial, but out of the way. I bet it gets mobbed on 06 June. Anyway, we see all there is to see and my friends head back East while I continue my trek West.

It's 5 more hours to home and at some point I finish my audiobook about the Korean war and start listening to All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. I'd read it back in the 9th grade and it's still fun to listen to the stories of a country vet.

Finally, I get home. Three dogs come screaming up to the door of the Jeep and as soon as I open the door Lady (the lab) jumps in on top of with with great, muddy paws and drenches me. I get out and pet all three, then head for the door. There's a package there from UPS (lotta good the dogs did). It's to my address, but someone else's name is on it. Also, printed on the top in my hand is the message: "Return to sender. No one here by that name." I'd dropped it in a UPS box the Tuesday previous after it had been delivered to my address. Weird.

And so ends my Saga of the CLE. Think next year I might just pay to watch the tape. I like being there, but the drive is just tooooooooooooo long.

BTW: I want to thank the approximately 10 people who stopped and commented about the blawg. It's always good to know there are people out there actually reading this thing. ;-)

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