Update: 09/16/2010, 4:36 p.m.
It was enough. Barely three hours after Crane appeared before the Supreme Court, it issued the following order: “Upon consideration of the apology proffered by William A. Crane, the Rule to Show Cause is dismissed.”
An obviously nervous and contrite William A. Crane found at least one sympathetic member of the Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday.
Crane apologized for commenting in a hearing in Winchester Circuit Court that the court didn’t “have the guts to handle” an issue he had raised on appeal. The court issued a show cause order directing him to explain the remark.
Crane noted that had had spent 23 years in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps so that respect for one’s superiors is deeply ingrained in him.
When he read the transcript of his remarks, he couldn’t believe that he had actually said, Crane told the court. “It’s not something I would do.”
Justice Lawrence L. Koontz Jr. responded, “When you read the transcript, it’s pretty shocking – at least it was to me.”
He asked Crane what would be a fair resolution of the show cause order.
“Perhaps a letter of censure,” Crane responded.
A few minutes later, Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. asked him, “Why isn’t that too harsh?”
Might it not be more appropriate for the court “to accept your apology and move on?” Hassell asked.
“I would hope that’s what the court would do,” Crane responded.
Crane’s was the last case during the court’s argument week, and he did not enter the courtroom until his case was called and disappeared quickly after the court adjourned without any further indication of how the show cause order would be resolved.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief on Crane’s behalf, although it emphasized that it was doing so “on its own initiative, and not at the request of Mr. Crane.”
“It is Amicus’ understanding that Mr. Crane has apologized to the Court and has declined to raise any constitutional defenses, an approach that Amicus fully respects. The purpose of this brief is to remind the Court that important constitutional principles are nonetheless at stake,” ACLU attorney Rebecca K. Glenberg wrote.
She contended that basing criticism of Crane on a preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct rather than a particular rule failed to give attorneys fair notice of what conduct is prohibited.
She also argued that Crane’s comment was one of fact, not opinion. While ill-advised, the remark was, “At most, it was a wry expression of dismay that the Court chose not to address an issue that counsel considered important.”
Crane told the court he agreed with the Glenberg’s argument, but “notwithstanding whether it was protected speech, I’m quite embarrassed by it.”
By Alan Cooper