After more than 40 years on the bench and service at every level of the Virginia judiciary, Justice Koontz has run up against the mandatory retirement age. Earlier this week, he took the time to speak about his career with his former clerk (and my current partner) Monica Monday at a meeting of the Ted Dalton American Inn of Court.
In the wide-ranging conversation, Justice Koontz came off as charming, thoughtful, and funny. A few highlights that may be of interest to appellate practitioners:
- Justice Koontz still believes that oral argument is valuable–though I got the sense that some of his colleagues may differ with him on that point. He’s been keeping an “unscientific survey” since he joined the Court of Appeals as a charter member in 1985. Over those 25 years, he estimates that oral argument changed the court’s thinking in 25-30% of the cases he heard.
- In terms of practical advice, Justice Koontz suggests that at oral argument, advocates pick their single most compelling point–the one issue that tips the scales in their favor–and plan to spend their time discussing that issue. There’s just not enough time to do much else effectively. The one exception, he noted, is when the other side has a particularly strong argument, which must be disarmed.
- From my perspective, the most interesting exchange of the evening came when Monica asked Justice Koontz to explain the different between trial and appellate judges. For Justice Koontz, who’s sat on both benches–and who has been a judge much longer than I’ve been alive–the difference comes down to credibility: The trial judge weighs the credibility of witnesses, while the appellate judge works hard not to.
- Finally, Justice Koontz noted that he is seeing an increase in personal attacks and hyperbole in briefs. He flatly stated that this is not effective advocacy.
I understand that Justice Koontz officially steps down in January 2011. We’d love to hear any of your thoughts about how to give him a proper Web 2.0 sendoff.