NOTE ON RECENT APPELLATE DEVELOPMENTS
(Posted February 15, 2019) Here’s a quick report on the new and notable in the Virginia appellate arena.
New SCV justice, CAV judge elected
Yesterday the General Assembly selected CAV Judge Teresa Chafin as the next Supreme Court justice. Judge Chafin will move up September 1, when current Justice Elizabeth McClanahan retires. The legislature chose Judge Clay Athey of Frederick County to take Judge Chafin’s position.
Judge Chafin’s elevation continues a trend: She’ll be the fifth consecutive General Assembly appointee to come from the Court of Appeals. The last time the legislature chose a new justice who wasn’t a CAV judge was nine years ago, when it elected Justice Bill Mims.
By statute, Justice McClanahan will be eligible to serve the court as a senior justice if she so chooses (and if the rest of the court consents, but that’s a formality). The statute authorizes up to five senior justices, and right now we have four. I have no insight into whether she’ll choose this route, or elect to spend her time otherwise.
One last note on these developments: Judge Chafin is from Russell County in southwestern Virginia. At least one legislative comment hailed her selection on geographic grounds, assuring that vast corner of the state continued representation on the court. (Justice McClanahan is from Abingdon.)
Once upon a time, that geographic diversity had greater significance. In the Nineteenth Century, a lawyer seeking to present an appellate petition of some sort might endure hardship in traveling to Richmond, so Virginia custom “dictat[ed] that there should be an appellate justice from each of the five grand divisions of the state: Tidewater, Piedmont, Valley, Southside, and Southwest.” Thomas R. Morris, The Virginia Supreme Court: An Institutional and Political Analysis (Univ. of Virginia Press 1975) at 46. This allowed lawyers living in regions beyond Richmond to “conveniently present petitions for writs of error to the justice from their region of the state.” Id. at 53.
The court’s current composition isn’t quite that balanced. There’s one justice from Nelson County, just south of Charlottesville; two are from Tidewater; two come from the greater Richmond area; and one hails from Fredericksburg. Noticeably absent from that list is northern Virginia, which hasn’t had representation on the court for several years now.
A larger merits docket looms
The February session argument docket is out, and it features 22 appeals, spread over four days. I’ve publicly lamented the decline in the number of writs – appellate lawyers gotta eat, too! – and the January session was remarkably thin, with just 13 appeals. A 22-argument docket is a welcome sign. April might be bountiful, too; the justices granted over 20 writs in the month of December alone, and those appeals are making their way through the pipeline. Here’s hoping that this is a trend.
Back to the Court of Appeals
In case you missed it, Judge Marla Decker is the new chief judge of the court, replacing previous Chief Judge Glen Huff. She becomes the second female CAV chief judge in its 34-year history. Fear not for Judge Huff, who’s still on the court and probably enjoying all the free time that comes with fewer administrative duties.
New notification system
We have tech news here at VANA. If you’ve signed up to receive a notice when I post new content, you’ll soon get a different-looking e-mail, as I’m switching to a new service. Starting next week, you’ll get an e-mail notifying you of new content as usual, but it’ll look a bit different. (I figure I’ll warn you before you start getting strange-looking e-mails inviting you to click on a link.) You don’t need to do anything to remain on the mailing list.