Category Archives: Ethics

WaPo Nabs Polk Award, Is Pulitzer Next?

Ian Shapira

By Peter Galuszka

How ironical.

Our esteemed Jim Bacon has been on a tear in recent months writing about media coverage of the problem of systemic racism at the Virginia Military Institute.

Of special interest to Jim is the reporting of Ian Shapira, a Washington Post reporter who has been digging into the VMI. After his stories were published, the superintendent of VMI retired and an inquiry was launched.

Jim doesn’t like what the Post and Shapira have done. Some of Jim’s headlines go right to the jugular including “VMI Update: The WaPo Makes Another Sleazy Insinuation” and  “WaPo Ratchets Up Assault on VMI.”

At one point, Jim made this observation: “Polish up that Pulitzer. It looks like The Washington Post is vying again for the big prize in journalism”

Well, guess what happened? Shapira and the Post have won a George Polk award for their VMI coverage. The citation reads thusly: Continue reading

Certificate of Public Need’s Hall of Mirrors

by James C. Sherlock

Versailles Hall of Mirrors

In Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, everything is reflected hundreds of times.

The mirrors were also a commercial. They represented an effort of Louis XIV to establish for France monopolies on the production of luxury goods.

Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and regulations represent a similar structure.

Everything in the process reflects back on itself. Those reflections both reinforce the structure and cement monopolies. Though it represents the intrigue of Versailles, COPN lacks beauty and grace. But, in another similarity, neither Louis nor Virginia’s General Assembly tried to represent the interests of the people in these enterprises.

This essay will help explain how COPN works. It would be shorter if the tentacles of COPN were not so completely enveloping and self-reinforcing. This is in its entirety both legal and a scandal, as with much else in Virginia politics.

Two recent COPN decisions affect my home area of South Hampton Roads. Those cases pointed to the systemic roadblocks to successfully challenging Sentara Healthcare’s dominance here which will never be surmounted while COPN stands as is. Continue reading

Sentara and the Judge

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Feb. 23 at 2:15 pm

In an ongoing series of reports, Ray Locker, enterprise and investigative editor of the Checks and Balances Project, has exposed a story with far-reaching implications.

Norfolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall sat in judgment on a case, Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r,  in which Sentara was an included defendant.  

It appears from that reporting that she could have recused herself for two reasons:

  • prior to her appointment to the bench Judge Hall not only had represented Sentara for years in another COPN case; but also
  • the judge’s co-attorney on that previous COPN case, Jamie B. Martin of Williams Mullin, was Sentara’s attorney in Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r.

From Mr. Locker’s first article:

The Virginia Canons of Judicial Conduct says this about judicial impartiality:

“(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned”

Further under Canon 2,

“The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity and impartiality is impaired.”

My own additional research into published Norfolk Circuit Court opinions shows that Judge Hall sat in judgment on cases in that court involving Sentara as well as on Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r.  This case was filed in Chesapeake Circuit Court.

The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, who is charged with overseeing judicial conduct, assigned the case to Judge Hall

Chief Justice Lemons of the Virginia Supreme Court asked Judge Hall to sit by designation in Chesapeake in place of the judges of the First Judicial Circuit (Chesapeake) and hear the case. She accepted. He made the appointment on July 31, 2018.

There would be three possible reasons to import a judge:

  1. Chief Justice Lemons assessed that there were no judges on the Chesapeake Circuit with the experience to hear a COPN case; or
  2. he assessed that the Chesapeake Circuit judges were conflicted or could have been considered so; or
  3. The Chesapeake Circuit had more cases than judges at that point.

There is no indication in the record of why Judge Hall was imported in this case.

Continue reading

Baby Steps Toward Campaign Finance Reform

Del. Marcus Simon
Photo credit: Bob Brown/AP

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia law prohibits a candidate for public office from converting “excess” campaign funds to her personal use when closing out her campaign finance account. However, there is nothing to prevent a candidate from using campaign funds for personal, non-campaign related, purposes during a campaign.

Ever since his first General Assembly session (2014), Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, has introduced legislation to prohibit any personal use of campaign funds. Year after year, the bill died, with no recorded vote, until the 2019 session, when subcommittee votes were required to be recorded. That year, the bill died, 4-3, in subcommittee, with the four votes against it cast by Republicans. Last year, the bill was carried over again. Continue reading

Consumer Reports Misleads on Virginia EV Bill

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Few media outlets are as influential with their readership as Consumer Reports or as active in soliciting direct contact of public officials on issues that management feels are important to that publication’s political values. That is their right, but false statements in support of their positions is a violation of public trust.

I received yesterday afternoon in my email a solicitation for political action in Virginia pushed out by Consumer Reports to all subscribers. It read:

Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates approved an exciting piece of legislation that would allow the state to make it easier for consumers to buy fuel-efficient and electric vehicles at car dealerships in the Commonwealth.

That in turn could help drivers save money on fuel and reduce our air pollution: a win-win no matter how you slice it.

But before the bill can get signed into law, it must pass through the Senate by next week. Can you send a message to your VA Senator now and ask them to vote YES on House Bill 1965?

Continue reading

COPN Scores a Kill

by James C. Sherlock

More than eleven months ago I wrote an essay titled, “The Legal Corruption of (Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need) COPN.” That system needs overhaul, not adjustment, and the people of Hampton Roads need help.  The Governor needs to lead in both efforts.

Today I offer the third in a series (first two here and here ) of essays providing background and potential future solutions to the closure of Bon Secours DePaul Hospital in Norfolk.

This is the story of the public, state-sponsored execution of DePaul and a simultaneous attempt to create a bleak future for Bon Secours in Hampton Roads.

COPN mortally wounded that hospital in 2008. It lasted until now as Sentara gnawed away at it  Its death was announced this past week. Pending is how Bon Secours will look at its future in Hampton Roads.

Continue reading

Liberty’s Curious “Think Tank”

By Peter Galuszka

Imagine there is a “think tank” at a private, non-profit university. It produces no academic papers and does no peer-reviewed research. Instead, it holds podcasts, seminars and buys ads on Facebook that obviously promote a political party and president.

Would that be a “think tank” or a political action committee?

That about sums up the situation involving Falkirk Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, according to Politico, a Washington-based news outlet.

True, Liberty is a private, conservative religious institution. But that does not mean it can do what it wants.

“Universities are not allowed to back candidates or be involved in elections because of their status as 501c(3) nonprofits, which exempts institutions like Liberty from paying income tax and allows donors to deduct their donations from their taxes,” according to Politico. Continue reading

Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Sits Idle While Constituents Suffer and Die

by James C. Sherlock

I have been attempting to improve healthcare access, affordability and competition, which improves both access and affordability, in Virginia for 15 years, especially for the benefit of the poor.

I have seen the Governor’s office and members of the Virginia General Assembly (especially Democrats on health care issues) continue to bow to the wishes of big healthcare industry contributors and repeatedly hurt the cause of improving healthcare for poor people.

Who are disproportionately black.

Today I am going to call out some of the worst offenders I have seen in action over those years, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. Continue reading

Mark Herring’s Worst Thanksgiving –  Conspiracy Against EVMS may lead to Federal Involvement

by James C. Sherlock

Sentara CEO Howard Kern

Scandals are sometimes overrated. Not this one.

I have reported here before on the strange case of the EVMS-ODU merger. I posted here on Nov 1, Nov 2  and Nov 3 with my own concerns on the subject. Many of my assessments came to fruition.

On November 13 and 20, the Checks and Balances Project picked up the story and took it to the next level. The quotations below are from the November 20 story.

I am not an attorney, but I will project today the significant legal jeopardy into which the process may have put the group that got together to coordinate and plan that merger without EVMS participation. 

Not to mention the legal and personnel mess that it puts on the desk of Virginia’s Attorney General and the Governor. 

Continue reading

Maybe We Can Sue

by James C. Sherlock

Updated August 30, 3:30 pm

I wrote yesterday about a House of Delegates bill that ultimately was passed by the House Committee for Courts of Justice as House Bill No. 5074 Amendment In the Nature of A Substitute (the bill).  

I wrote of its effects on public officials and owners and managers of private companies for violations of COVID-19 regulations. The bill makes them not just accountable to state and federal regulators, but also personally civilly liable for the slightest violation of any part of the virtually unclimbable wall of applicable regulations. And Virginia has the strictest COVID-19 occupational safety regulations in the nation.

This essay will discuss the ethics of two different original bills and reveal the secretive process by which the final substitute was developed in committee. It will ask the General Assembly to clean up a scandal of its own making.

Some may say this “goes on all the time.” It may, but that does not mean it should.

Continue reading