19 July 2009

And Then Comes
Chief Justice Hassell

Last Thursday I went down to Abingdon with a couple folks from the office to get some CLE credits in the Solo and Small Firm CLE. Yes, I know it's not exactly a perfect match for prosecutors, but we don't get a lot of choices out here in the part of Virginia that's west of West Virginia and if you offer a free CLE I'm going to seriously consider going to it even if you are going to spend the day talking about the law of cartography as applied to international riparian rights.

Anyway, most of the CLE was okay. There was a gentleman who gave us an hour long speech about how important it is to maintain work-life balance which probably would have driven Scott nuts. We got a speech reminding people to make objections so that mistakes can actually be appealed (Virginia appellate courts are extremely unsympathetic if the trial attorney doesn't object). There was an ethics discussion which was mostly about when an attorney can contract under contingency; this was interesting primarily because a few of the older attorneys were going back and forth with the Bar expert about why they couldn't do X (which it seemed pretty clear that they had probably done at some point in their career). The worst part was the Tech For Solos section which can be summed up as "buy a more expensive, more powerful computer than you'll need and get all the expensive hardware and software to go with it." NOPE. WRONG. Epic fail. The high point of the CLE was the semi-lecture, semi-question and answer section by the Chief Justice of Virginia's Supreme Court, Leroy Hassell.

First, let me say that it's impressive that the Chief Justice would drive out here. It's probably a 5 hour drive to Abingdon from Richmond and he came down for an hour of face time with local lawyers. The Chief Justice has been controversial at times, and I've disagreed with mandates which were attributed to him, but the man has a presence to him when he speaks. It may say something about yours truly, but I watched him make his presentation and thought to myself, "It'd be really interesting to try a case against him."

Anyway, he announced that Virginia is going to start e-filing in NoVa and after it's perfected will be rolled out everywhere (I think it's also coming to some county out in far SWVa, but he didn't mention that). The crowd instantly started buzzing and questioning which basically boiled down to "Please, for the sake of all that is holy, please don't make it anything like the federal system and allow us to pay by debit card rather than having to set up accounts at every single courthouse." In response to a question, he announced the death of the judicial review program, which got no really noticeable reaction. One person asked a question about the law requiring that local rules not effect substantive rights of defendants (not really an issue out here, but in larger jurisdictions is a problem). The judge carefully evaded the question because there's a case pending, but said something to the effect of "I hear your concerns." Maybe the most interesting part was when some of the defense attorneys started asking about jury sentencing and the fact that juries don't get sentencing guidelines and can't go below minimum sentences like judges can (via suspended sentences). At first he was answering fairly openly, but then he closed down, deferring to the General Assembly as the part of the government which determines the sentencing regime. I think he was afraid that someone might write about it (not me, Peter Vieth, from Virginia Lawyer Weekly was there and did post about the Chief Justice: 1, 2). Then, having finished his hour with us, the Chief Justice left for his drive back to Richmond. I figure he probably got back about 5 p.m.

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