Argument before Supreme Court today

Politics is an avocation.  My real job is practicing law as a Virginia attorney.

This morning, I enjoyed one of the ultimate professional experiences which is an argument before a full panel of the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court building is on Ninth Street, just a few steps down the hill from the General Assembly Building.  (Together with the State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion, the entire area makes up “the Capitol Square”).

I got there early, before a 9 a.m. argument.  Butterflies.  Walking into the building, there are lawyers from all over Virginia.  I push my way into the “Appellees’  Work Room,” which is a simple white-washed room with chairs, desks and a “No Smoking” sign on the door.  Not a computer in sight.

At 8:45 a.m., I check in with the court clerk.  Inside the hearing room, the justices sit on a raised dais.  The attorneys stand beneath them at counsel table  On both sides of the room, the portraits of a hundred former justices look down.  It’s a serious place.

At 9 a.m., our case was called.  I’m the appellee, which means I oppose the appeal.   The appellant gets fifteen minutes and then it’s my turn.  I have notes but I barely look at them — mainly I’m answering rapid-fire questions from the justices.

We’re done.  The  red light buzzes on the lectern and the Chief Judge smiles and dismisses us.  We’ll get a written decision in sixty days or so.  A hundred years from now, some forlorn law clerk may be citing to that opinion in a legal brief.

It’s raining outside as I walk back on Ninth Street to my car.


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Guilty as Charged

Thursday, September 4, 2014.

If you’re in Virginia politics, you will always remember that date and where you were when the McDonnell verdict was announced.

In my case, I was traveling up I-95, just past Kings Dominion, after arguing an administrative appeal for a client in Richmond.

“Guilty, guilty, guilty ….”

As the words were repeated by the radio reporters lurking outside the Federal courthouse, I knew that our perceptions would be permanently altered:  of the trial, of the McDonnells, of public life in Virginia.

There will time (years, actually) to second-guess the decisions that were made by the defendants in this case, namely (i) the refusal by Bob to take the initial plea deal on one count and (ii) the “thrown Maureen under the bus” trial strategy which spectacularly tanked for both of them.  I think you can surmise my thoughts on each.

Having said that, there’s no point in kicking a guy when he’s down — and it won’t get any lower.  So I’ll just forego the usual sermonizing on ethics, transparency and public trust (most of which I said back in 2013 anyway).

In the end, the McDonnells’ fall from grace was Biblical in its proportion, and it must be even harder to accept since they decided to face the world as a purportedly separated couple during their darkest hour.  (I suspect and hope they will be reunited by the sentencing hearing on January 6th )

My main memory of Bob will be visiting his new Governor’s office in the Patrick Henry Building, just a few days after his January 2010 swearing-in.  He invited me in and showed me around.  He was as excited as a kid in a candy shop.

The office was decorated with framed front pages from the Richmond Times Dispatch and Washington Post celebrating his smashing victory from November.  It was clearly a landmark moment in his life.

Unfortunately, the headlines will be even bigger tomorrow.

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Phil Selz, my ten favorite books below …

(This is actually reprinted from last December.  Chap)

My Ten Favorite Books

Posted on December 20, 2013 by Chap

It’s the most hectic time of the year.  The state budget is sitting on my desk in Richmond.  My 2014 legislation is due to be filed in two weeks.  I’m madly finishing a number of legal cases.  I have four children who deserve Christmas presents.

So I need to spend a couple hours listing my favorite books of all time.  They display an unabashed Western bias, mainly because I only read in English.  But these are the ones I loved the most.

Here they are in no uncertain order:

1.  The Bible.  The story of a people, a man, a message.   You can read it a dozen times and still discover new meanings.

2.  War and Peace.  Epic.  Vital.  Something about this book just blows me away.  You can feel the cold air on a St. Petersburg night.  You can see Napoleon’s troops standing in the sunlit fields of Borodino.  Tolstoy is the best writer ever.

3.  Les Miserables.  You liked the show or movie?  The book is 10x better.  The redemptive story of Jean Valjean is moral to the core, yet transfixing.  I want to stand atop a Paris street barricade and sing, after I read it.

4.  For Whom the Bell Tolls.  I go through Hemingway phases.  When I was in college, I was fascinated by ”Sun Also Rises.”  Then “A Farewell to Arms.”  Three years ago, I read “Bell” and loved it.  Robert Jordan waiting for his death in a Spanish valley …

5.  From Here to Eternity.  This will surprise a lot of people because this book by James Jones was considered pop fiction when it came out — and then a famous movie.  But it is the best book ever about Army life.  (A close second is “Tales of the South Pacific”).

6.  Life and Fate.  If you have not read this book by Vassily Grossman translated from Russian, then run to a bookstore or Amazon site.  It  tells a searing tale of Russia’s struggle in WWII.  It is the 20th century mirror to Tolstoy and I say that with no hyperbole.

7.  The Executioner’s Song.  A chilling story.  Norman Mailer writes about crime, death, prison, loneliness and small towns.  Don’t sleep alone after reading it.

8.  Lonesome Dove.  An ode to a bygone era by our greatest living writer, Larry McMurtry.  Gus and Call.  The last of the Texas Rangers, riding across the cordillera.  Blue Duck.  The last of the Comanche warriors, leaping to his death from a prison window.  You didn’t think I’d leave this one out?

9.  Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand.  This is actually a biography (like “Ex Song”), but it’s such a damn good book … you’ve got to include it.  When you read this book, you realize what it means to be a great American.

10.  The Great Gatsby.  Word-for-word the best American book ever written.  “So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into our past.”

(Two bonus additions with a nod to British literature)

11.  Atonement by Ian McEwan.  A story of love, accusation, confusion and class-based society in 1930′s England.  A really awesome story.

12.  A Tale of Two Cities.  It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  It was the age of reason.  It was the age of foolishness.  (This is a super-tough call on Dickens, because “Great Expectations” is another favorite).

OK, that’s my go-to list.  You can blast me for the lack of diversity.  Guilty as charged.  Also note that I have avoided history titles (e.g. “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”), which would needlessly complicate things.

I also failed to mention “Last of the Mohicans” or “Huckleberry Finn” as well as “Brothers Karamazov.”  Any of these books could crack the Top Ten or Top Five, depening on my mood.  Also “Man’s Fate” by Andre Malraux.

But that’s for another time.  Feel free to add your favorite books below

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