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Bon Mots: March 2018 Edition

As seasoned attorneys know, the lofty principles that attract aspiring lawyers can quickly be overshadowed by client emergencies, Sisyphean scheduling conundrums, unreasonable opposing counsel, billing targets, intrafirm politics, and understaffed courts. But from time to time, our esteemed judges take an opportunity to remind us of the law’s great written tradition, whether by powerful rhetoric, meticulous reasoning, devastating pithiness, or simple humor. In Bon Mots, VLW captures the month’s most notable, quotable phrasing from Virginia’s state and federal jurists – because if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, American Humanist Ass’n v. Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Comm’n (4th Cir. Mar. 1, 2018)

Forty-nine names appear on the plaque at the base of the Great War memorial in Prince George’s County. Aggregate figures do not do justice to individual soldiers. Each name marks the tragedy of a life lost before its time. Each death marks a worthy sacrifice.

We honor those Americans who died serving their country in different ways. Families respect their fallen sons and daughters in pictures, prayers, and memory. Their country honors them in ceremony, as at Memorial Day, but more often with quietude.

The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence. We should take care not to traverse too casually the line that separates us from our ancestors and that will soon enough separate us from our descendants. The present has many good ways of imprinting its values and sensibilities upon society. But to roil needlessly the dead with the controversies of the living does not pay their deeds or their time respect.

Justice Stephen R. McCullough, Commonwealth v. Williams (Va. Mar. 1, 2018)

Virginia has long been blessed with many talented and conscientious officials who ably labor for the public good. Human fallenness being what it is, however, accountability mechanisms are necessary to protect Virginians in the rare instances when their public officials go astray. Because I disagree with the majority’s interpretation of the applicable statutes, and because I fear that the majority’s interpretation will have baleful consequences on the accountability of our public officials, I respectfully dissent.

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, United States v. Recio (4th Cir. Mar. 7, 2018)

[The appellant] argues that [the court’s] conclusion is “absurd,” offering the example of a person who sings along to a Bob Marley song and then has the lyric “I shot the sheriff” introduced against him at trial. But that example only reinforces the fact-specific nature of this inquiry, for although one person might sing along to Bob Marley and no more, another might use the same lyric to brag about actually having shot a sheriff. See Smith v. Quarterman, 471 F.3d 565, 567, 571-72 (5th Cir. 2006) (defendant convicted of murdering a deputy sheriff sang “I shot the sheriff, but in my case it was the deputy” while in jail).

Judge Albert Diaz, Sky Angel US LLC v. Discovery Commc’ns LLC (4th Cir. Mar. 15, 2018)

Sky Angel’s problems began with a fall from heaven. The satellite the company used to distribute television services was failing and launching a replacement was cost prohibitive.

Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr., McNeil v. Faneuil Inc. (E.D. Va. Mar. 20, 2018)

One of the primary reasons Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees are so high is that Defendant fought – and forced Plaintiffs to fight – every issue in this case. Defendant cannot fight the case to its last breath, and then complain that the attorneys’ fees are disproportionate to the amount recovered. Additionally, Defendant lost nearly every issue that it fought, supporting the [magistrate judge]’s finding that Plaintiff had a high overall degree of success.

Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon, Nexus Servs. Inc. v. Moran (W.D. Va. Mar. 23, 2018)

The various complaints filed by plaintiffs’ counsel often contained repeated allegations that were wholly irrelevant to plaintiffs’ claims. These additional allegations resulted in additional expense to every attorney for every defendant that had to review them, respond to them, and otherwise reference them in their motions. By way of example only, all of the proposed complaints contained repeated references to incidents involving racially charged language or to the fact that [the plaintiffs] were an openly gay couple, but there was no discrimination claim at all, and so the individual plaintiffs’ races, the races or ethnicities of many [of plaintiff’s] clients, and the plaintiffs’ sexual orientation were irrelevant. Given that they had no connection to the claims themselves, it appears to the court that many of these allegations were included in pleadings simply as part of an attempt to humiliate or shame the defendants. Such efforts constitute an abuse of the judicial process, and they waste this court’s time and the resources of all parties and counsel.