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Virginia Beach lawyers, court staff soldier on after shooting

Peter Vieth//June 17, 2019


Virginia Beach lawyers, court staff soldier on after shooting

Peter Vieth//June 17, 2019

vb_mainThree days after a gunman shot and killed 12 people at the sprawling Virginia Beach government complex, lawyers were back in court nearby on June 3 arguing to a jury over the value of a personal injury claim.

The courthouse was just a few hundred yards from “Building 2” at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, where a city engineer who had announced his resignation that day allegedly began shooting some of his colleagues in the utilities department.

The shooter died in a gun battle with police officers.

Case goes forward

The incident brought a phalanx of FBI agents to study the gunman’s motives and methods, while a lawyer for a victim’s family called for a separate investigation focused on prevention of future tragedies.

But a judge, a jury and two lawyers on that following Monday got down to the business of claim valuation despite the heightened security and somber mood at the courthouse.

Circuit Judge H. Thomas Padrick Jr. said he was sensitive to the situation as people returned to their jobs Monday morning.

“It was a time of great sorrow and pain, obviously, for everybody,” Padrick said June 7.

“The question came up: Should we go forward?” the judge said. There was concern for possible trauma of the jurors, he explained.

“The jurors, to their great credit, all showed up,” he said.

Padrick – a former police officer – left it to the lawyers to decide on a continuance, according to Jeffrey F. Brooke, counsel for the plaintiff. The defense even offered a pass, he said, agreeing to eat the cost of a medical expert if Brooke wanted a continuance.

Brooke said the parties and the lawyers preferred to get the case done, and the jurors offered no objection.

“It’s a tough time for all of us,” the judge said, as recalled by Brooke. “It’s a tragedy, but we all have a job to do.”

Padrick said no one wanted just to go home. “We conducted business as usual under very sorrowful conditions,” Padrick said. “I give great credit to the sheriff’s deputies and the staff for their resilience. They just came to work Monday and went to work,” he said.


The experience the previous Friday was harrowing. Padrick said he was on the bench at 4:15 May 31 when the shootings started. The shots were unheard in the courtroom.

“The deputies suddenly locked down the courtroom,” he said. “It was unclear at first what was going on. The first report was there was an active shooter in the courthouse,” he said.

Padrick said he and other judges were evacuated to a secure location, as was the courthouse staff. Lawyers were taken to a lower level of the courthouse, he said.

In the aftermath, lawyers who regularly use the courthouse felt “stunned,” according to Ryan G. Ferguson.

He said he had left the courthouse May 31 before the shooting started. Alerted to the unfolding drama, he said he ended up weeping while watching television news at home. He said his wife – a real estate agent – often interacted with one of the victims.

“I was just frankly overwhelmed,” he said. “My 7-year-old had to comfort me.

“It was an unsettling event, to say the least. It’s been sort of overwhelming for everyone around here.”

Attorney Tariq Luka also was at the courthouse on that Friday morning, but was elsewhere in his car when the shooting occurred.

“It seemed like every police car in Virginia Beach went past me at about 100 miles per hour.”

“It’s a tragic thing all around, to say the least,” Luka added.

Somber mood

Ferguson said the effects of the shooting were apparent in juvenile and domestic relations court Monday morning. “The officers looked, frankly, exhausted,” he said, although they, too, were there to do their jobs. “We’re doing fine. We’re all working,” they said, according to Ferguson. “They’ve answered the call.”

“There’s a presumption at the courthouse that it’s secure physically, even though everyone has an awareness that something could happen,” he said.

Courthouse staff was offered counseling, according to Ferguson.

“It’s my hope, after speaking to them, that they take advantage of that,” he added.

Study sought

Lawyer Kevin E. Martingayle – the 2014-15 president of the Virginia State Bar – publicly called for a prompt outside investigation of the shooting. He said he got involved because of connections with a family that lost a loved one in the shooting. The family sought his help when they could not get information on where the victim had been taken.

Martingayle said he talked with Timothy J. Heaphy – now university counsel at the University of Virginia – who as a private lawyer helmed a study of the violent 2017 Charlottesville rallies. Martingayle says Heaphy would be available to lead a similar study effort on the Virginia Beach shooting, if the attorney general asked.

“We’ve got a guy with expertise currently on the staff and available to do the study,” Martingayle said. Prevention of similar incident would be the focus.

The FBI was quickly on the scene to do a reconstruction of the crime scene aimed at training and behavioral analysis, according to published reports.

“The kind of report we’re talking about goes way beyond what the FBI is doing and, frankly, what they have the ability to do,” Martingayle said.

He said the study would look at “what went right, what went wrong and what can we improve.”

Martingayle disavowed any thoughts of potential litigation.

“There is no talk on our side about suing anybody. Nor have I heard any other families or lawyers talking about suing,” he said.

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