UPDATE ON RECENT EVENTS
(Posted November 1, 2022) Despite last week’s surprise, I’m fairly confident that we won’t be seeing any opinions this week from the Supreme Court of Virginia. It’s time for a look around the Virginia appellate world.
The justices convened this morning for the beginning of the final court session of 2022. The docket contains 14 appeals spread over four days. I noticed two familiar sets of names: Sasson v. Shenhar and Isle of Wight County v. International Paper return to Ninth and Franklin after previous SCV decisions involving the same parties. Sasson is an oldie: The Supreme Court announced its previous decision fourteen years ago yesterday. It involved the fugitive-disentitlement doctrine in a child-custody case. Today’s appeal may or may not be about the same child, but based on my review of the 2008 opinion, I see that he’s now 20 years old, so it may well be about something else.
International Paper, a machinery-and-tools-tax challenge, is far more recent; The Robes remanded the case two years ago for retrial on one aspect of the case. That second trial evidently didn’t go well for the county, because it’s now on the appellant’s side of the “v.”
First appeal-of-right opinion
Today the Court of Appeals of Virginia issues an opinion for the first time (as far as I can tell) in a civil case filed at Eighth and Franklin under the new appeal-of-right regime. Patel v. Rabinowitz is a debtor-creditor appeal that involves a subpoena from out of Virginia. This tells me that the timeline from notice of appeal to CAV decision is likely to be something on the order of ten months. I’ll let my pal John Koehler have the first crack at analyzing the opinion.
John, by the way, has found a new legal home in The Law Office of James Steele, out in Roanoke. I wish my brother success there, and I look forward to his resuming his entertaining and insightful essays on CAV decisions.
Multiple appellate-bar organizations to which I belong have lamented recently the fact that our congregations are overwhelmingly monochromatic. There are, sadly, few minorities among the appellate bar here in the Commonwealth. That bar is mostly (maybe 2/3) male and overwhelmingly white. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to Virginia; even nationwide organizations of appellate advocates number precious few minority members.
Yesterday the Washington Post published a front-page article that describes a similar phenomenon among the SCOTUS bar. The article is long, but I eagerly read the whole thing, hoping for insight into ways we, in my bar associations, can address the problem.
The article mentions a group in Washington calling itself The Appellate Project. A remarkable lawyer named Juvaria Khan spearheads it; its goal is to inspire more lawyers of color to consider appellate practice as a career focus. Ms. Khan spoke at the 2021 Virginia Appellate Summit and described the group’s work. She indicates that one strategy is to start early, reaching out to law students to explain the opportunity in the appellate world.
None of this will be a quick fix, but I’m hoping earnestly that she, and my bar associations, can make headway against what I see as an embarrassing problem. A big part of the challenge is convincing minority lawyers even to consider this field. To quote Yogi Berra, when asked about declining baseball attendance, “If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop ‘em?”
A non-appellate note
Today is the first day in many years in which my pal Jim McCauley isn’t heading up the State Bar’s ethics lawyers. Jim called it a career yesterday after a long stretch at the post. His knowledge of legal ethics is encyclopedic; you could ask him a question on any ethics topic and within moments, he’d call up the number of the most relevant Legal Ethics Opinion. I’ll miss our conversations, in large part because, like me, he loves to laugh.