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Judge’s opinion rendered as email message

In yet another sign of the post-paper era, a judge has digitally delivered not a “letter opinion,” but an “email opinion” to communicate a ruling to the parties.

Judges often send their letter opinions as email attachments, and many arrive at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in that form. But this new message is a fully developed judicial opinion composed as the text of an email, with the accompanying order attached as a Word document.

The opinion is the latest judicial pronouncement in a four-year divorce-custody-support case playing out on three levels of Virginia courts. The battle between Roanoker Norvell West and his ex-wife Jill has produced a published opinion of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, a letter opinion from Roanoke City Circuit Court, and now an email opinion from the city’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

There is even a second appeal pending at the Court of Appeals, with oral argument scheduled next month, according to Roanoke attorney Vicki L. Wiese, counsel for the wife.

One takeaway from the email opinion of J&DR Judge Joseph M. Clarke II: get your courtroom victories nailed down in an order. While it appears the husband may have scored some points at circuit court hearings, the J&DR judge took judicial note of only what was in the record as a court order.

It seems clear a circuit court judge will have some housekeeping to do when the case returns to that forum. Clarke says the litigation has become “a procedural mess.”

“I cannot sort out how much of responsibility for the convoluted status of these cases is attributable to Mr. West, Ms. West, the attorneys and/or the judges (including myself),” Clarke wrote.

-By Peter Vieth

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