Supreme Court of Virginia

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia handed down 18 published opinions and two orders. As always, Steve Emmert has a witty write-up (along with a new photo on his web page–looking good, Steve). The VLW Blog also discusses some of the highlights. The bulk of January cases are either criminal appeals or habeas proceedings; I haven’t done the math myself, but Emmert breaks it down to 15 criminal appeals/habeas proceedings and 5 civil matters.

As you might have noticed, I wasn’t exactly on top of this breaking news–or much of anything else that happened over the past week, for that matter. Here’s my excuse:

From January 8-14, I attended the the National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia. It’s off-topic, so I won’t bore you with the details, but it was probably the best educational experience of my life. The faculty was spectacular, the exercises were demanding, and the feedback was brutally honest. Further, I got to spend a week with dozens of talented and motivated lawyers working to get better at their job. That was fun. It was also a neat reminder of how lucky we are to do what we do.

But it gets better. I capped that off with an oral argument before the Supreme Court on Friday. For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss the case. But I really treasure the opportunities I get to argue before the Court. Oral argument is the reward for all of the hard work you put into briefing and preparing (although somehow, thinking of it that way doesn’t make me any less nervous). Different people go to law school for different reasons. If you ask me, the coolest thing you can do with a JD is to have a conversation with the Commonwealth’s highest court about what the law is (or should be), and help them get to a fair result that will justly govern future cases. It was a brilliant end to a perfect week.Continue Reading Supreme Court of Virginia Releases January Opinions

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia released a batch of opinions. I know that I’m late to the party–I’ve been out sick–but here is a quick run down of the results:

November 2009 Supreme Court of Virginia Opinions


Appellant’s Counsel

Appellee’s Counsel


Hutchins v. Talbert, Record No. 081632

Alfred F. Belcuore

Justice Keenan, who has been nominated for a seat on the 4th Circuit, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. Our friends at The VLW Blog report that the entire nomination hearing will be webcast.

Yesterday, Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly reported that eight candidates have alerted the Virginia State

The Supreme Court of Virginia’s recent treatment of assignments of error has been inconsistent, and that makes life difficult for appellants and appellees alike.

Background: Supreme Court’s Crackdown on Assignments of Error Alarms Appellate Practitioners

For the past year or so, the Supreme Court of Virginia has been getting increasingly demanding in its treatement to assignments of error. Steve Emmert contributed an excellent essay on this topic last summer. He pointed out a few specific instances in which the Court had found assignments of error lacking:

  • At oral argument on June 4, 2008, the Chief Justice interrupted an AAG and asked her how her assignment of error was sufficient. The assignment read, essentially, “The trial court erred in excluding the expert testimony of [the Commonwealth’s expert].”
  • On June 10, 2008, the Court entered an order dismissing an appeal for an insufficient assignment of error in a legal malpractice case. The assignment read, “The trial court erred in granting [the appellee’s] motion for summary judgment.”

This was troubling. Virginia case law has long required an appellant “lay his finger” on an error by pointing out the exact legal ruling he was challenging. That was the standard, and these lawyers seemed to have their fingers in the right place.

Worse, the second assignment of error was almost identical to one granted in 2006, which read: “The trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.”

Emmert notes that the news alarmed–even stunned–experienced appellate practitioners, himself included. He determined that the best advice for appellants, which he attributed to an unnamed justice, was to include the word “because” in your assignments of error.

Emmert’s observations match our experience here at the Firm on the Move (TM). For example, we represented the appellees in a recent case where one of the assignments of error cited an evidentiary issue, then stated that the trial court had erred by overruling the appellants’ motion on that “and other grounds.” The Supreme Court reached the merits of the evidentiary issue, but ruled as to the other grounds that it would not address such a general and unspecific assertion of error.”Continue Reading What’s an Appellant (or Appellee) to Do? Supreme Confusion Over Assignments of Error

The VLW Blog reports that Chief Justice Hassell was hospitalized recently with an infection and will not participate in the Supreme Court of Virginia’s oral argument session next week. The story is here. One of the Court’s senior justices will likely sit in for him during his absence.

We wish the Chief a speedy