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Court of Appeals knocks lawyers in divorce case

Call it a double benchslap.

A Virginia Court of Appeals panel Tuesday delivered a scathing opinion that takes both lawyers to task in a bitter and widely publicized divorce case involving a couple with both legal and political connections.

The opinion in Griffin v. Griffin again thrusts into public view the protracted divorce proceedings of former state GOP chair Kate Obenshain and Winchester lawyer Phillip S. Griffin II.

It’s the second time the court has used caustic language to criticize the parties’ appellate advocacy. “In order to give fair consideration to those who call upon us for justice, we must insist that parties not clog the system by presenting us with a slubby mass of words rather than a true brief,” wrote Judge Robert J. Humphries, quoting a federal appeals court opinion.

A footnote helpfully explains that “slubby” can refer to either a “muddy or slushy mess” or an uneven section of yarn. The court found both definitions fitting.

Husband Griffin, represented by Walter C. Jacob of Leesburg, comes in for the brunt of the court’s criticism. Besides filing a “poorly crafted brief,” according to the opinion, Griffin also dumped on the court a seven-volume appendix of more than two thousand pages. Despite its mass, the appendix still failed to contain many relevant documents, the court found.

The wife, represented by William E. Shmidheiser of Harrisonburg, does not escape the court’s barbs. Her brief included a lengthy discussion about the trial judge, questioning the judge’s “commitment to efficiently resolving the case,” according to the appeals court. The court found the discussion “needless and inappropriate.”

The court’s decision: the husband loses his challenge to the trial court’s rulings, and neither party is entitled to attorneys’ fees.

The decision comes a month after Phillip Griffin sued Shmidheiser, his ex-wife’s lawyer, seeking $2 million for alleged false statements and other misconduct in connection with the divorce.

By Peter Vieth

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