Category Archives: Courts and law

Unraveling the Ralph Northam Infanticide Controversy

Background. The past several weeks have been full of controversy for three of Virginia’s leading Democratic politicians – Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring. The local, state and national media have been focused on allegations of racism against Northam and Herring and sexual assault against Fairfax. However, prior to the media onslaught regarding racism and rape Governor Ralph Northam was embroiled in another controversy regarding comments he made during a radio show. During that radio interview Gov. Northam said some things that some people felt condoned, or even supported, infanticide. What did Ralph Northam say (in context) and did he really condone or support infanticide?

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Sorry, Mr. Bloomberg, You Can’t Pay for Virginia Justice

Earlier this year I described how Attorney General Mark Herring had applied for funding from the Michael Bloomberg-funded New York University School of Law to hire a special assistant attorney to pursue climate-change and clean-energy initiatives. (See “Following the Dark Money.”) NYU had agreed to provide the funding but, for reasons as yet unclear, Herring’s office never made the hire.

Chris Horner, a Virginia resident and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, raised the alarm — entirely ignored by Virginia’s mainstream media — about the potential danger of allowing private interests, in effect, to commandeer the police powers of the state.

Herring’s bid to use private funds to hire an attorney also raised a separation-of-powers issue. While the OAG is arguably free to accept outside money, it has no authority to spend it unless it is appropriated by the General Assembly. Clearly, someone in the General Assembly was paying attention to the matter. Language in the budget conference report directly addresses the ability of the AG’s office to hire mercenary attorneys: Continue reading

Fairfax Dons Mantle of Victimhood. It Does Not Fit.

Justin Fairfax and the media

About a month ago Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax came under a barrage of criticism after being accused of sexual assault by two seemingly credible women. Elected Democratic officials across Virginia called for his immediate resignation. He said, wait just a minute, let’s not rush to judgment. Give me a “full, fair, independent, impartial, and non-political investigation by law enforcement.”

Because the alleged crimes took place outside Virginia, they don’t fall under the jurisdiction of Virginia law enforcement authorities. Thus, an investigation by Virginia law-enforcement authorities, which Fairfax called for, isn’t in the cards. Because Fairfax has been charged with no crime, the only practical venue for him to clear his name in the court of public opinion is to allow the accusers to tell their story and for him to offer a defense in a public hearing organized by the General Assembly.

Now Fairfax is equating the GOP’s proposal for legislative hearings with Jim Crow-era lynchings. Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, according to the Virginia Mercury, he said: Continue reading

Fifteen Months Later and Still No Answers on the Bijan Ghaisar Killing

463 days. November 17, 2017 was the date that U.S. Park Police gunned down / assassinated Bijan Ghaisar on a street in Fairfax County. That was 463 days ago.  n all that time there has been no comment from the U.S. Park Police or the FBI (assigned to investigate the case) regarding this killing.

477 days. That was the total amount of time that elapsed between the discovery of the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson / Ronald Goldman and the verdict in the OJ Simpson case. Continue reading

Being a Self-Righteous Pain is Not a Crime

Michelle Renay Sutherland, a New Yorker who traveled to Richmond to demonstrate in support of Virginia’s passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, is an annoying individual. Frankly, I find her sanctimonious posturing to be a pain in the ass. Maybe she violated the law for baring her breast when posing as the goddess Virtue in a reenactment of the Virginia state seal, maybe not. But her actions are hardly grounds for holding her in jail without bail for a month.

A magistrate set a bail of $700 for Sutherland, a Brooklyn artist with no criminal record. But General District Court Judge Lawrence B. Cann III ordered her held without bond until her trial, scheduled for March 21.

An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch does not quote Cann as providing any justification for refusing to release Sutherland. Continue reading

What? You Want Us to Be Consistent?

The rule maker, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, gets to decide the exceptions to the rule.

by Richard Hall-Sizemore

In 2014, Sen. Philip Puckett, a Democrat from far Southwest Virginia, was in a quandary. His daughter was vying for a juvenile and domestic relations court judgeship, to which she had already been appointed as a substitute judge. However, Republicans in the Senate, led by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, were holding up her election, not based on any objection to her qualifications, but because of a tradition of not supporting family members of sitting Senators for judgeships.

Fast forward to 2019. Until yesterday there was a vacancy pending on the Virginia Supreme Court. A Republican senator from far Southwest Virginia is, according to newspaper reports, lobbied his fellow senators to elect his sister, currently a member of the Virginia Court of Appeals, to the higher post.  Norment said that situation was different because the senator’s sister had already been elected to a judgeship before her brother had been elected to the Senate. Continue reading

Mob Justice for Justin Fairfax

Wow, that was fast. One day Justin Fairfax was measuring the drapes for the Governor’s Mansion, now the grandees of the Virginia Democratic Party say he should step down as Lieutenant Governor. The sexual-assault charges against him are serious and his accusers deserve to be heard. But can we give it just a little bit of time before assuming his guilt and tossing him into the trash heap of history?

Fairfax, according to the Washington Post, is asking for an “appropriate and impartial” investigation into the accusations against him by Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson. “I am asking,” he said, “that no one rush to judgment and I am asking for there to be space in this moment for due process.”

Is that really too much to ask? It astonishes me that so many people believe that there mere existence of accusations is sufficient to remove Fairfax from office. Continue reading

Finally, The SCC Is Full Strength

The Honorable (Again) Patricia L. West (Click for larger view .)

Former Chief Deputy Attorney General and Circuit Court Judge Patricia West is heading to the State Corporation Commission and the only question it raises is, why did the Republicans feel compelled to ram her election through with such speed?

Was the coalition that fragile?

West apparently has not practiced law in front of the Commission on behalf of clients, and certainly has not lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of regulated clients.  Her campaign contributions are modest.  She has a long resume of leadership posts around state government, and if she has expressed strong opinions on any of the various regulatory controversies of the day, no one is aware.  But people forget most of what the SCC does is not controversial.

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State Database Missing 55,000 Felons

Missing

The Virginia State Crime Commission is asking why 750,000 conviction records — including those for 300 murder and 1,300 rape convictions — are missing from the state database used to run background checks for gun purchases, court sentencing and employment, reports the Washington Post. It turns out that conviction records are entered into the database only when they are accompanied by fingerprints. But the Virginia law-enforcement and judicial systems have a spotty record of taking and preserving fingerprints, especially for misdemeanors and other minor crimes. Continue reading

Northam Plans to Curtail License Suspensions

A huge victory for the drive-to-work movement: Governor Ralph Northam has announced plans to halt the practice of suspending driver’s licenses as a way to collect unpaid court fines and fees, reports the Washington Post.

In Virginia more than 276,000 licenses were suspended in 2017 alone. The practice creates a Catch-22 for the people, mostly poor and working class, who are affected. Judges revoke peoples’ licenses as incentive to pay court penalties. But without a license, many can’t work and earn the money to pay the penalties. Indeed, the problem compounds because people driving on suspended licenses often get stopped for unrelated traffic offenses and rack up even bigger fines. The system, in a word, is insane, and a bipartisan majority has come to see it for the policy folly that it is.

Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., R-Franklin, has submitted a bill that would end license suspensions for drivers who fail to pay fines and costs. Stanley praised Northam’s plan. “I’m glad that he’s thinking like me.”

The WaPo story did not detail how Northam would approach the problem.

There is one obvious concern. Courts need some kind of sanction for people who refuse to pay their court fines and fees. If jailing them makes no sense — they can’t pay back their penalties if they’re stewing in confinement — and if suspending their drivers’ licenses is self-defeating, what other alternatives are there? One possible partial solution is to make it easier for people living hand-to-mouth to work out long-term repayment plans. But there will always be scofflaws and free-riders, so there needs to be some kind of punishment for them.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is one of those rare issues where Republicans and Democrats, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians can all agree: As a society, we want to make it easier, not harder, for people to work for a living and meet their obligations. Ending the practice of suspending licenses is a big step in the right direction.

But legislation should not stop there. Unless they provide courts with some means of collecting fines and fees, lawmakers will empower the scofflaws and encourage contempt for the law.

Altria rumored to be in talks to buy Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group

High in Henrico.  Henrico County based Altria, makers of Marlboro cigarettes among other products, is rumored to be interested in buying Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group.  Altria is refusing comment while Cronos said it “confirmed that it is engaged in discussions concerning a potential investment by Altria Group … in Cronos Group.”  Cronos went on to say that no agreement had been reached and there is no assurance that the discussions will lead to a deal.

Is that really a maple leaf on the flag?  Canada legalized possession of marijuana nationally effective October 17, 2018.  Under the national law provinces have some latitude regarding specific cannabis regulation.   In Quebec and Alberta, the legal age is 18; it’s 19 in the remainder of the country for example.  However, unlike the United States, there is no dichotomy between national and provincial (state) law.  There can be no doubt that this legal clarity is encouraging companies like Altria to consider entering the Canadian marijuana market while sitting on the sidelines of American states which have legalized grass.

Implications for Virginia.  Pot legislation and the business of selling pot is moving quickly in North America.  In November Michigan became the tenth US state to legalize possession of marijuana.  There is legislation pending for the 2019 General Assembly session to decriminalize marijuana in the Old Dominion.  Now an iconic and politically connected Virginia-based company apparently sees no moral or ethical issue with participating in Canada’s legal marijuana market.  Given that Altria’s board includes Virginia luminaries such as Thomas F Farrell, CEO of Dominion and John T Casteen, former President of UVA one wonders if Altria’s plans might lend respectability to marijuana reform in Virginia.

I smell refund.  In 2018 a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana (SB 111) was defeated along party lines in the Courts of Justice.  Nine Republican state senators voted against the bill.  Over the years all nine have received campaign contributions from Altria.  Given that these nine politicians see marijuana possession as a serious crime one would hope they will return these campaign contributions given that Altria is trying to engage in marijuana production, distribution and sale.  After all, is it moral to keep money contributed by a company engaging in practices you think should be illegal?  Here are the amounts (per VPAP):

Obenshain – $44,250
Norment – $128,433
McDougle – $58,000
Stuart – $8,500
Stanley – $9,500
Reeves – $28,265
Chafin – $1,500
Sturtevant – $8,000
Peake – $500

— Don Rippert

Marijuana arrests and racism in Virginia (especially Arlington County)

Reefer madness.  The upcoming debate in the Virginia General Assembly over decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana may have racial overtones.  VCU Capital News Service studied the data for marijuana arrests in Virginia from 2010 through 2016.  African Americans were 3.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than whites.  At the same time separate research shows almost no difference in marijuana use between white and black Americans.  Across America it’s even worse.  Nationally, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana crime than a white person.

Location, location, location.  VCU Capital News Service breaks down the data by locality.  You can find the numbers here.  The only jurisdictions where the per capita arrest rate for whites is higher than blacks are those counties where the population is so low that a single arrest can make a statistical difference.  Highland County, for example, averaged 13 African American residents over the study’s time period and none of the 13 were arrested for marijuana crimes.  Two white people (out of about 2,200) were arrested for marijuana crimes in Highland County.  In all of Virginia’s populous localities the African American arrest rate was notably higher than the corresponding rate for white people.  In Hanover County for example, blacks were arrested at a frequency 6.3 times that of whites.

Libtopia.  Anybody who has ever been to Arlington County knows that safe spaces are mandated by the building codes, snowflakes can be seen in July and rainbow colored unicorns prance in the bike lanes.  It’s a progressive paradise.  So it probably comes as a surprise that African Americans were more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes in Arlington from 2010 – 2016.  Arlington County’s Board has five Democrats, no Republicans and no independents.  The lone independent (John Vihstadt) was defeated in November.  How is it possible for the Lions of Libtopia to turn a blind eye to rampant racism occurring in their social justice warrior wonderland?

The Hook is dope.  If you do want to posses marijuana you ought to consider residing in the City of Charlottesville (25 total arrests per 100,000 residents) rather than the City of Emporia (1,595 total arrests per 100,000 residents).  You are 64 times more likely to get a reefer bust in Emporia than in Charlottesville.  Does anybody think that the people of Emporia use marijuana 64 times more often than the people in Charlottesville?  In fairness, I95 comprises about 1/2 of the border of Emporia so many of the arrests may be people using that highway.  However, Falls Church (51) vs Fairfax City (589) makes one wonder.

Unfair at any speed.  As the General Assembly considers decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana it should also consider the fairness of the present system.  Vast differences are observable in the enforcement of marijuana laws across race and location.  In locality after locality you are more likely to be arrested for marijuana if you are black vs white.  The City of Charlottesville (pop 45k) made 11 marijuana related arrests from 2010 through 2016, fewer than 2 per year.  The City of Danville (pop 43k) made 354 arrests over the same period, over 50 per year.

— Don Rippert

2019 General Assembly Session – Amending the State Constitution

Lucky number seven.  Virginia has rewritten its original constitution (1776) six times thus making our current constitution (1971) the seventh state constitution.  While there is no serious movement afoot to get to the eighth constitution there are plenty of carry over, first reference and first resolution bills that propose to modify our present constitution.

Right to vote.  HJ578, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Provides there is a right to vote and requires the Commonwealth to provide all resources necessary to assist qualified voters in the exercise of their right to vote.

Redistricting Commission.  HJ 582, Heretick, D-Portsmouth (first reference).  Establishes a 13 member Virginia Redistricting Commission.

Governor’s term of office.  HJ584, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Permits governor to succeed himself or herself in office.  Permits two terms, either in succession or not.  Prohibits a third term.

Joint election of Governor and Lt Governor.  HJ585, Keam D-Vienna (first reference).  Joint election of Governor and Lt Governor.  Both candidates to appear jointly on the ballot similar to the US president and Vice President.

Reapportionment after redistricting.  HJ591, Cole – R-Fredricksburg (first reference).  Reapportionment of legislative electoral districts following census-based redistricting.  Limited to getting districts to coincide with voting precincts.

Definition of marriage.  SJ1, Ebbin – D – Alexandria (carry over).  Repeals language defining marriage as”only a union between one man and one woman” based on ruling oif US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ251.

Qualifications for Governor.  SJ2, Chase – R – Midlothian (carry over).  Increases from five to eight years the time a person must be a resident of Virginia before becoming eligible to be governor.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ252 and as a first resolution under SR82.

General Assembly term limits.  SJ3, Chase – R – Midlothian (carry over).  Limits members of the Senate to three full terms and members of the House of Delegates to six full terms.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ253 and as a first resolution under SR83.

Restoration of right to vote for non-violent felons.  SJ5, Lucas – D – Portsmouth (first reference).  Allows the General Assembly to enact a law automatically restoring the right to vote for non-violent felons who have completed their sentences.

Governor’s term of office (see also HJ584).  SJ8, Ebbin – D- Alexandria (carry over).  Permits governor to succeed himself or herself in office.  Permits two terms, either in succession or not.  Prohibits a third term.  Legislation refiled as first reference under SJ250.

Qualifications to vote.  SJ9, Locke – D – Hampton (carry over).  Removes restrictions on the right to vote from those convicted of a felony or adjudicated to be mentally incompetent.

Qualifications to vote.  SJ12, Lucas – D – Portsmouth (carry over).  See SJ9 (above).

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ25, Hanger – R – Augusta (carry over).  Established seven member redistricting commission.  Establishes standards to remain in compliance with state constitution requirements for districts.

Restoration of right to vote for felons.  SJ27, Hanger – R – Augusta (carry over). Allows General Assembly to legislate automatic restoration of right to vote for felons who have completed their sentences other than in cases of “barrier crimes” (to be defined by the General Assembly).

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ34, Barker – D – Alexandria (carry over).  Establishes an eight member redistricting commission.

Seized drug assets used to promote law enforcement.  SJ39, Reeves – R – Fredericksburg (carry over).  Proceeds from the sale of forfeited property for drug offenses be paid into the state treasury and distributed for the purpose of promoting law enforcement, the purpose of promoting law enforcement shall be as defined by general law.

Virginia Redistricting Commission.  SJ51, Deeds – D – Bath (first resolution).  See HJ582 (above).

Criteria for electoral districts.  SJ68, Vogel – R – Warrenton (first reference).  Provides criteria for drawing electoral districts including “contiguous and compact” territory.

Political reform.  SJ258, Chase – R – Midlothian (first reference).  Prohibits the establishment of electoral districts that intentionally or unduly favor or disfavor any political party and requires the General Assembly to regulate the role of money in elections and governance to ensure transparency, to prevent corruption, and to protect against the buying of access to or influence over elected officials.

— Don Rippert.

2019 General Assembly Session – Privatizing Public Roads in McLean, Va

Judge Dillon’s revenge.  Development vs transportation has been a long running battle in Virginia. Northern Virginia’s local government  politicians never met a developer (or developer’s campaign contribution) they didn’t love. Virginia’s state legislators love NoVa growth since it provides more state tax money to spread around like party favors to their downstate constituencies. However, those same state legislators loathe the idea of repatriating many of those tax dollars back to Northern Virginia to fund needed transportation improvements. The local pols blame the state pols for failing to fund transportation in NoVa. The state pols blame the locals for ineffective land use planning. Meanwhile, both localities and the state are throwing their shoulders out of joint patting themselves on the back over winning half of the new Amazon HQ2 deal. There have even been rumors that Apple may be looking at NoVa for another 20,000 jobs. What could possibly go wrong?

No need to wait for chaos. While Amazon HQ2, Apple and the “densificiation” of Tysons are all largely future events, the chaos of underfunded transportation is already here. Loudoun County’s population grew 97% between 1990 and 2000, 84% from 2000 to 2010 and 27.5% from 2010 to 2017.  Meanwhile, over 50% of Loudoun workers commute to work outside of Loudoun County (hint: they are not working in West Virginia). At the same time, a veritable caravan of immigrants from The Socialist Republic of Maryland cross the Virginia border every morning seeking a better life through employment in Virginia. The predictable result is that the American Legion Bridge has become a chokepoint that backs up the Beltway for miles, especially in the evening.

Adding insult to injury. The same kind of advanced technology that so enthralls Virginia’s politicians in the HQ2 deal creates nightmares for McLean residents. Navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps are being blamed for showing Loudon commuters and Maryland economic refugees how to bypass Beltway traffic by using the surface streets of McLean. The resulting backups on streets that are often narrow and shoulder-less wreak havoc on the daily lives of those living in the affected neighborhoods. One can only wonder how much worse this will get once the new construction in Tysons is completed and Amazon HQ2 starts adding traffic to Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons.

It’s good to be Queen. Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-McLean, has a plan.  Privatize McLean’s public streets for the exclusive use of McLean residents, at least during rush hour. Murphy’s HB295 has been carried over from the 2018 session. The bill is summarized as follows …

“Allows counties that operate under the urban county executive form of government (Fairfax County) by ordinance to develop a program to issue permits to residents of a designated area that will allow such residents to make turns into or out of the neighborhood during certain times of the day where such turns would otherwise be restricted.”

It seems Del. Murphy will protect herself and her well-heeled neighbors in McLean by simply banning traffic she finds inconvenient. Let the commuters eat cake. It’s easy to feel sympathy for the residents of the many areas in Northern Virginia being ruined by clogged streets full of cut through traffic. However, it’s hard to see where this ends. Will the far less affluent citizens of the Route 1 corridor be able to ban cut through traffic on their streets too? Or will this remedy be reserved for Del. Murphy and her wealthy neighbors in McLean?  Limousine liberalism anyone?

Correction: HB295 was incorrectly described as pre-filed in the original version of this article. In fact, it was carried over from the 2018 session.  The content has been changed to reflect this correction.  

— Don Rippert

2019 General Assembly Session – Sports Betting Legislation Prefiled

Republican General Assembly Member

I’ll take the Giants by 2.  Sports betting was made illegal in the United States through the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). The legislation was signed into law by George H.W. Bush.

I’ll bet the Supreme Court overturns PASPA. Had you made that bet you would have won. In May, 2018 the US Supreme Court ruled PASPA unconstitutional. The high court decided that individual states should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow sports betting.

What’s the line on the Virginia game? Del Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax County, has pre-filed HB1638 to make sports betting legal in Virginia. However, the line on Virginia would not be applicable since all Virginia collegiate and professional teams would excluded from legalized sports betting. Sickles legislation would only authorize online betting and would allow for a maximum of five licensees with a revenue tax of 15%.

Party Boy Petersen. On the Senate side Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, has publicly stated that he will also introduce legislation making sports betting legal in Virginia. Petersen’s promised 2019 sports betting legislation would add public places as legal betting sites in addition to Sickle’s online venues.  As Petersen told the Virginia Mercury, “I’m not interested in people sitting in their parents’ basement with their pajamas on betting on a ‘Monday Night Football’ game, I want this to be part of a social entertainment package where people get out and spend money.” Party on, Chap!

What’s the vig? Oxford Economics estimates an annual $5.2 billion betting handle with $380 million in net revenue.  The state’s 15% would come to $60 million per year. Since the Virginia State Lottery would administer the sports betting, the lotto gang would also take a cut of the action. The rest would go to research projects at state universities under the Sickles approach but would become aid to Virginia community colleges under the Petersen plan.

The odds of passage  I’m going to go with 3-1 against passage of this legislation in 2019. I predict that the usual gang of ossified, conservative, downstate Republican legislators who wax poetic about the importance of liberty will block Virginians from having the liberty to make sports bets.

— Don Rippert.