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Archive for General Law

The Injustice of Lettre de cachet

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

In our Monday morning attorney meetings, I always ask the firm lawyers, ”who has a jury trial this week?”. Then, I ask those responding to describe their cases and the witness that they intend to call .

The day before trial, we usually get the jury panel listing that describes the jurors that will be hearing the case. Officially, everyone wants a fair and impartial jury. The reality is that you really want to pick jurors that will be fair and impartial… as they rule for your client!

In all of that, I am always thankful that we have the ability  and right to try the case in front of a jury and not just in front of a judge. Out of 144 countries, we are the only country where juries determine justice.

The complete opposite of a jury trial is the form of “justice” that prevailed in France in the 14th century. It was called Lettre de cachet. French legal scholars described it as the ” king is an emperor in his own kingdom”. It was an order which contained the legal and permanent will of the king and affixed with the seal of state by the chancellor.

This order was used for determination of civil matters, but it was primarily used to initiate or imprison individuals. There was no legal mechanism for appeal. Probably the most bothersome part of this form of “justice” was that wealthy families or individuals could pay the king to issue these orders for wayward family members or for adversaries to be imprisoned. Money could truly buy “justice”.

Just another reminder of how fortunate we are to have a jury system.  It is why Thomas Jefferson acknowledged that “justice by the people” is  “the fundamental law of society” and that ”every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone”. (spoken by Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours in 1816)

And our pic o’ day:

for food

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Hiding In Iraq

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Greg Brown had worked in Florida in the family business of private investigation. He moved to Virginia and in 2008, he decided to open up his own  investigation company with the help of his stepson. To help ends meet, they also would serve lawsuits as private process servers.

In 2011, attorney Sherwin J. Jacobs of Harrisonburg, called Brown and asked him to come by the office to discuss some work. Jacobs then described a domestic case in which he had recently been hired. Attorney Jacobs asked Brown to follow Canadian citizen Ali Abid. Abid’s wife had told Jacobs that her husband was cheating on her and she even knew where his girlfriend lived. Abid was a former Iraqi national who now ran a construction company in the Weyers Cave area.

The plan was to have Investigator Brown actually serve the divorce papers on Abid at his girlfriend’s house. On  the morning of March 3, 2011, Brown left a voicemail for his stepson, to let him know that he would be late for their scheduled meeting that day because he was following Abid. Brown never showed up for his meeting. For the next three days, the family worried because Brown had disappeared. Then, his car was found in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Harrisonburg. In the trunk they found Brown’s body.

Brown had been shot three times. One of the shots was determined to be in close contact to the back of his head. On the same day that Brown had disappeared, Abid had withdrawn $11,376 from a bank and then traveled to Dulles Airport. There, the FBI determined that Abid had taken a series of flights to Iraq. To date, he has not been found. He is currently facing a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. In addition, Interpol has placed a computerized “red notice” to indicate an arrest warrant.

Court documents show that Abid has been in financial difficulties for some time. In 2009, American Express took a $22,000 judgment against him; In 2001, Augusta Medical Center filed a warrant in debt relating to medical bills; There is currently a case pending against him in Augusta County that was filed by Federal National Mortgage and his home is facing foreclosure proceedings. Abid’s bank was also in the process of repossessing his truck. Brown’s family (pictured below from are asking for help in the capture of Abid.


With the information now known about Abid, Brown’s widow has now filed suit against the lawyer that hired him to follow Abid and serve him with divorce papers.  According to the lawsuit, the lawyer knew that Abid was dangerous including the knowledge that Abid had recently purchased a gun. The lawyer failed to warn Brown despite knowing that Brown had made repeated attempts to serve the divorce papers, which also gave Abid knowledge that a process server was looking for him.

Initially, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush dismissed the lawsuit against the lawyer, because she found that the allegations in the suit failed to establish a “special relationship” between lawyer and investigator that created a legal duty to warn that it was ”reasonably foreseeable by Jacobs as an imminent probability of harm” to Brown, in following and serving the defendant. Now, the Brown family attorney  (former Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain) has appealed that dismissal to the Virginia Supreme Court. There is no real prior case law that would address this as a claim for failure to warn a private investigator. A case with more to follow.  (Portions of this story also came from Virginia Lawyers Weekly)

DID YOU KNOW that Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, claims to have gotten his first shoe idea after staring at a waffle iron? Bowerman credits the idea of using squared spikes from the iron, to help make shoes lighter. I wonder what he would have invented if he had been staring at a baked potato?

Pic o’ day… a pony never goes out of style!


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Comparing the Years

Monday, June 16th, 2014

I have written a few blogs about age. That included the discussion of introducing evidence to a jury to consider a client’s life expectancy. Some even told me that they went to Virginia Code Section 8.01-419  just to see how long  Virginia law says that they are supposed to live.

That brings me to an interesting website called You’re getting old. It requires you to put your birthday in a box and then… it gives you all kinds of information to make you feel old. This despite the fact that it also says that the average person going to the website is 33. Yep… not much to say about that. So, for a Monday blog, I figured this might be fun discovery if you click on it.

DID YOU KNOW that the first huddle in football was formed because one team had a deaf player who used sign language, and his teammates did not want the opposing team to see the signals that he used so they formed a huddle around him?

And for pic o’ day, a bit of home security:

home security

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The Fightin’ Judge

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

This falls under the heading of  ”You don’t see that everyday”. I am regularly asked if I am working on any interesting cases. I can tell you that nothing compares to the NY Daily News story of the Florida Judge who threatened to beat up the lawyer… and then he did!

You might have seen this on the news. If you are in a position to watch the video below; then I promise, words cannot do it justice.

If you can’t watch it now, save it for later. Briefly described, Judge John Murphy argues with the public defender Andrew Weinstock. The Brevard County judge keeps telling the lawyer to sit down, but the lawyer refuses and tells the judge that he has a right to stand there on behalf of his client. The attorney felt that the judge was pressuring the client into waiving his right to a speedy trial.

When the judge was not getting the response that he wanted, he immediately asked the lawyer if he wanted to settle the matter with their fists. As the judge more forcefully asked, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your a$@”. The lawyer can be seen headed toward the side door of the courtroom, and then there is the sound of scuffling. When the judge returned to the bench, he turned to the people in the courtroom and said, “I will catch my breath eventually. Man, I’m an old man”.



Did You Know that King Henry I established the unit of measurement designated as a “foot”? His arm happened to be 36 inches long and he declared the standard length of a foot to be one-third of that. Imagine if his arm had been 42 inches long. Yep… a foot would have been 14 inches.

And for pic o’ day…



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Richmond is Saving History

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Writer Brandy Brubaker of Richmond BizSense recently wrote about the Historic Richmond Foundation and its decision to bring history back to life in the restoration of a 200-year-old church. The article is titled Saving History Does Not Come Cheap.Monumental church

The Monumental Church has significance to the community because it was originally constructed as a symbol of hope from a terrible disaster.  On December 26, 1811, a fire destroyed the Richmond Theatre where hundreds were inside for a play. Nearly 600 people had packed the theater for a triple-bill benefit for the theatrical company.(Richmond Times-Dispatch) As the curtain rose on the second act, a candle on a chandelier brushed against the backing of the stage scenery.

The flames spread and one of the actors raced to the front of the stage and shouted, “The house is on fire”. A later Supreme Court opinion written by Oliver Wendall Holmes noted that such an exclamation, when not true; is not a form of protected free speech. In this instance, it also led to people being crushed in a mob-like exit.

As the fire grew, it didn’t take long for the sap-filled pine roof to catch fire. As patrons rushed to escape, the rising flames and poor design of the building, coupled with the heavy smoke; made it difficult to escape.   At least 72 people died including the governor of Virginia, George W. Smith and U.S. Senator Abraham B. Venable who had been named President of the Bank of Virginia.

On that fateful night, it was difficult to determine who had died in the fire. Everything was so burned beyond recognition. Officers went door to door to try to determine who had not come home from the night before, in an attempt to ascertain all the victims. The remains of the fire victims were buried together in a crypt underneath the church.

Then Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, John Marshall, led a campaign to build a church on the site as a tribute to the victims. Architech Robert Mills, who formerly studied under Thomas Jefferson, was hired to design the church. He would later be hired to design the Washington Monument.

The church was built and held its first service on May 4, 1814. The church counted Chief Justice Marshall and Edgar Allan Poe among its members.

Over the years, the church fell in disrepair. It also sustained tremendous water damage. It was deeded to the Medical College of Virginia which later turned it over to Historic Richmond. Several years ago, the Foundation conducted an ultasound on the brick crypt and determined that there are still two boxes which are believed to contain the remains of the fire victims.

The Foundation then made significant repairs and the church is now used as a popular wedding venue. There are still remaining repairs to be done that include such things as landscaping, roofing and painting. A marble monument at the church bears the names of those who died in the fire.

The newspaper story attached also details acts of heroism which led to the majority of attendees escaping the fire, despite the single narrow staircase to the box seats; as well as only having three exits from the building. The front door also opened inward which contributed to the difficulties of escape. Now, fire and building codes would never allow such design and construction.

DID YOU KNOW that the fear of vegetables is called lachanophobia? It is estimated that approximately 30% of Americans report real symptoms at the mere mention of certain vegetables that include nausea and shortness of breath.

And for pic o’ day:


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Looking Back to Look Forward

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

     In personal injury cases where clients need long term care, it’s our job to prove the future medical bills. Sometimes this means having a life-care planner testify regarding future expenses that have been identified by the treating doctors, and putting a price/cost on the future care. Many times we call this a minimum life-care plan. It does not take into consideration any future procedures, treatment or medications that may become available because of medical advancements. However, some jurors smartly recognize that the evidence introduced in the plan may be limiting.

     Sometimes the best way to look forward to possibilities, is to look back. That brings me to items sent to me by Jeff R.  It gave me a good “look-back” laugh. At the end of pic o’ day, I will list the answers if you missed one. When our marketing team saw this blog, they immediately decided that they want to put a contest together with prizes. (no lovely parting gifts like Jeopardy) So, we will be putting that together soon. If we don’t have your email, please send it in to be included in the contest.

      Looking back doesn’t have to mean that it signifies anything about age. I knew the answers and I’m a youngster!!! Do these look familiar to you?

                                                                                                                                                                                   What is the connection between these two?

photo 1

                                                                                                                                                                               What is this? (no… not the back of my head!)

photo 2

                                                                                                                                                                                     Do you know what to do with these?

photo 3

                                                                                                                                                                                           Do you know how to use this?

photo 4

                                                                                                                                                                                                 Do you know their names?photo 5

     DID YOU KNOW that you can’t hum and pinch your nose closed at the same time? (Did that make you try to prove me wrong?)

     And for pic o’ day,

K Bear

     Are you a subscriber of our eBlast Newsletter? Check out our May edition here, and you can subscribe for June. here.

Promised Look-back answers: 1. pen and cassette. Pen is used to wind the tape tight when it hangs out and makes it impossible to play in a cassette recorder. 2. Jiffy Pop popcorn on the stove… ready for eating! 3. Caps for a cap gun. 4. An ice cube tray. (probably the easiest) 5. Lassie and Timmy.

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Some Random Marketing

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

If you scroll through the news headlines, you are likely to see the Justin Bieber is suspected in a robbery; or that Chris Brown has filed suit with a claim of extortion over a basketball game fight. You probably have seen the video of Beyoncé’s sister with Jay Z. Headlines are meant to grab our attention. It’s news marketing so we will read and buy or gravitate to a website.

The marketing team constantly reminds me that I am not active enough on Instagram; that I am not doing enough videos to provide content on the website and that I need to do more tweets on twitter. It’s a reminder that marketing has changed a lot since the days that I could just go in and cut a radio spot or do a TV commercial.

It’s no secret that we try to get potential clients to click over to our site if they need a lawyer for their case. Many times they are not even sure if they have a case, when in fact it is a significant case.

I have found that some of my best marketing is when I am not marketing at all. Yesterday, my waiter at a local restaurant came up to the table with his arm in a sling. Completely unrelated to whether he had a claim, I simply asked what had happened.  He went on to describe that he would have called me if he had a case. Instead, he had been on a bike and a car had run him off the road. He didn’t even know that he had a case. Potentially, his own insurance will be responsible under the uninsured motorist portion of his insurance policy. They are responsible for the fault of an unknown driver without causing the insurance premiums to increase.

One final rambling market thought. This story on google searches reminds about what subjects interest the public. It’s not just cat videos or dogs performing a sing-along. How to hide a corpse or how win a lottery are some of the search engine items. When I hear that, it makes me feel a bit overwhelmed in wondering how to make an interesting legal video for the blog!

In the DID YOU KNOW section this time, it’s a word discovery. What word can you take its first letter off and make it the last letter, making the word the past tense of the original word? (I know, I had to read that a few times) Answer: Eat becomes Ate when you move the “e” to the last letter.

And for pic o’ day, this seems to be “scared of each other”:


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Pot Meets Kettle

Monday, May 12th, 2014

First, as I noted in yesterday’s blog, I was at the North Carolina high school golf tournament. My nephew shot a first round 77 and was not satisfied. To me, it looked effortless. The temperature around 90 was pretty stifling. I have the fan blowing on high in the office today!

For the blog,  I titled this after the idea of  silly criticism. In this instance it led to an arrest.

This story  (USA Today) is about a woman who was ticked at her drug supplier. The marijuana was apparently a fraud.  So, she called the police, just as she said she would. Guess who paid the price! Some 911 calls are just not an emergency!

DID YOU KNOW  that Thomas Jefferson was once given a 1235 pound block of cheese for a gift?  Supposedly, that’s where we get the expression “The Big Cheese”.

For pic o’ day, some good ole-fashioned friendliness.

Giraffe laugh

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Regulations… Why?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

In 1866, Gideon John Tucker wrote a legal opinion that related to a decision in a will case, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session”. During the 19th century, statesman Daniel Webster reportedly observed that “Now is the time when men work quietly in the fields and women weep softly in the kitchen; the legislature is in session and no man’s property is safe”.

The Libertarian Party is based on a platform that includes the following platform: “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values to benefit others”.  They also include the specifics of that platform by further stating that, “We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose“.

There are a lot of people who are angry at the government. They read the words of Tucker or Webster and nod in agreement. They hear the platform of the Libertarian Party and it makes them want to learn more. That’s because even the word “regulation” sets some people off. They are downright angry at the government intruding in their lives. In light of that thinking, the purpose of this blog is to recognize that thought, but also contrast it with some benefits that have been provided by the government because of laws and regulations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is in charge of the National Weather Service. That agency warns us of hurricanes. In fact, a look-back at a 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, reminds us that it killed 8000 people; making it the deadliest hurricane in our history.

Moving forward to Hurricane Ike that hit Galveston in 2008; Because of the National Weather Service, a network of satellites worked together to provide notice of the impending weather condition. Unfortunately, more than 100 people died during the storm, but over 1 million people were evacuated to safer areas. A government agency had been responsible for saving lives that included requiring people to leave the area, when they were told to leave.

Another regulatory agency is the well-known Food and Drug Administration. It recently rejected painkiller Zohydro, calling it “Heroin in a capsule”. It also recently would not approve an epilepsy drug because it determined that the drug had very serious side effects. In addition, the FDA regulates food to keep microbes out of our food. Food and drugs can’t just hit the market without regulation. We count on that agency to keep us safe.

I could recite the benefits of other government agencies that includes the National Institutes of Health that does important research to fight diseases; as well as the Center for Disease Control, which monitors and targets health hazards.

Thankfully, there are rules that govern our safety. It’s why people in a safe community stop at traffic control signs and signals, even when they don’t see a car coming. They also sit on juries and make people accountable for breaking rules. Just some of the reasons that it’s good to have some government rules and regulations.

DID YOU KNOW that pigs, walruses and light-colored horses can be sunburned? Hmm… should they use sunscreen?

And for pic o’ day, here is some strategy:

Disguise Dog

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Decisions and Framing

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

In the book How We Decide, the author describes the thinking of gamblers. It was confirmed in a college study.  When the choice of placing a bet for $50 is couched in terms of playing a game to gain 20 dollars, 42% choose to take the chance. When that same amount is described as a game to possibly lose 30 dollars, 62% chose not to play the game. Losing hurts more than winning and the study just framed it in terms of the negative versus positive.

Marketers and advertisers have learned to use the psychology of “framing” on us. It explains why a person chooses to buy meat that is labeled 85% lean instead of being marketed as 15 percent fat. It is also why we go to the doctor and ask an opinion on a procedure or surgery to fight an illness, and expect to be told about the success of the procedure. We are comforted to hear that there is a 98% success rate, not that 2% are worse after the procedure.

In our law practice, we also see the impact of framing during  jury trials. It’s why the legislature has adopted Virginia code section  8.01-379.1, to authorize how many times that the amount of money sought in the lawsuit may be discussed during trial. The Virginia code provides that any party in any civil action may inform the jury of the amount of damages sought by the plaintiff in the opening statement or closing argument, or both. The plaintiff may request an amount which is less than the ad damnum in the motion for judgment.

The law does not allow repeated discussion of the amount that was sued for, but it does allow the jury to know how much is being sought. Repeatedly in jury exit interviews, jury consultants advise that jurors want to know the amount the lawyer is asking for, and even become a bit irritated if the lawyer does not tell them. In some states, lawyers are not allowed to discuss an amount. Those court rules or laws are usually based in the premise that jurors should not be impacted by the psychology of framing.

Some think that a high amount causes jurors to cut it in half anyway. For instance, a juror may hear an amount of 1 million dollars and decide that they will only come back with 500k as their verdict. The greater dollar amount has framed them to a potential higher amount than they might have returned. Consequently, a lawyer who sues and asks for too much, may seem greedy and cause the jury not to take that lawyer seriously or as the one telling the truth.

DID YOU KNOW that according to scientists, kissing for one minute burns 26 calories?

And for pic o’ day, this TV  program sure is getting some attention:


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