Virginia Lawyers Weekly is pleased to present the next group of honorees in our program recognizing the leading lawyers in a particular field of law. In this edition, we showcase “Virginia’s Go To Lawyers” for appellate law.
The attorneys featured on the following pages were nominated by their colleagues and chosen by a panel from Lawyers Weekly. We expect some readers will argue there are some excellent lawyers who should have been included. Let us know! And please nominate them for future lists. Our next featured practice area will be commercial real estate.
Please join us in congratulating these outstanding appellate law attorneys.
— Kelly Caplan
Principal, Wood Rogers Vandeventer Black
While F. Nash Bilisoly has taken part in over 50 appellate cases, a large part of his practice surrounds workers’ compensation. He also concentrates on maritime law, representing shipyards, terminals, and vessels, with a focus on the Jones Act and the LHWCA.
Nash has litigated matters in the Supreme Court of Virginia, U.S. District Court, and both state and federal courts of appeal, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
The list of Bilisoly’s representative cases is long, and he is now working on educating attorneys of Virginia on the appellate process. He and his colleague travel around the state to present a seminar entitled “The New Virginia Court of Appeals: Practice and Procedures.” He is a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and served as the chair of the Stevedores Marine Terminals & Vessel Services Committee.
Michael H. Brady
Partner, Whiteford Taylor Preston
Michael H. Brady started out as a clerk in the Supreme Court of Virginia and was later lead attorney to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since then, he has honed his skills in navigating the intricacies of regulatory, judicial, investigatory, and legislative processes. His groundbreaking victories on behalf of an array of clients, ranging from small businesses to Fortune 50 companies, have made him a trusted advisor and advocate in the legal community.
A former assistant solicitor general of Virginia, Brady has represented private and governmental parties and amici in more than 40 appeals, in cases before the Supreme Court of Virginia, the 4th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ashley T. Davis
Shareholder, Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen
Ashley T. Davis is a legal strategist and litigator who focuses her practice on complex litigation, product liability, foodborne illness, sexual assault, federal litigation and appellate advocacy. She is considered by her peers as one of the top plaintiff’s appellate attorneys in Virginia.
Davis is a frequent lecturer and author on various topics related to trial and appellate practice. She is also an adjunct professor who teaches trial advocacy at the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law.
Davis serves on the Board of Governors for the VTLA and is active in their legislative efforts. She is an active member of the Amicus Curiae Committee, and regularly writes briefs to the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia Court of Appeals and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, working to promote access to justice on behalf of the injured.
Erin K. Deboer
Managing Attorney, Appellate Practice, Liberatore DeBoer & Ryan
Erin K. DeBoer has a diverse background that includes work with nonprofits, academia and the judicial branch. Her current focus is complex litigation support and appellate law, particularly regarding novel legal issues and writing litigation briefs. She also has a specific interest in helping nonprofit organizations and churches.
DeBoer formerly served as a clerk to Hon. S. Bernard Goodwyn in the Supreme Court of Virginia. She then joined the faculty of Regent University School of Law, where she taught legal analysis, research and writing as a full-time faculty member. She later served as an adjunct professor, teaching appellate advocacy and American legal systems and writing.
DeBoer has successfully represented two different appellants, one in front of the Virginia Court of Appeals and one in front of the Virginia Supreme Court. The latter case resulted in a notable change to state law regarding employee/employer relations.
L. Steven Emmert
Attorney, Sykes, Bourdon, Ahern & Levy
In his impressive body of appellate advocacy work, L. Steven Emmert has briefed and argued several significant cases that have resulted in numerous published opinions in a variety of fields of law.
Emmert is also well-known for founding and publishing the website Virginia Appellate News & Analysis. He publishes his comments on all newly decided appellate decisions, offering same-day analysis of opinions, plus news and essays about appellate advocacy and appellate practice in the commonwealth.
Emmert reconstituted the Virginia State Bar’s Appellate Practice Subcommittee and chaired that group, positioning him as the principal spokesman for Virginia’s appellate lawyers. He established a new Appellate Practice Section within that association, and served as its chair from its founding until 2011. He currently is chair-elect of the Boyd-Graves Conference. Emmert frequently lectures on appellate advocacy before a variety of bar associations.
Matthew A. Fitzgerald
If you’re currently enrolled in law school, there’s a fair chance your curriculum will include a decision driven by Matthew A. Fitzgerald’s handywork.
In 2018, Fitzgerald presented arguments that persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to grant certiorari in Collins v. Virginia. In an 8-1 decision, the justices Collins, ruled that police generally must obtain a warrant before entering the curtilage of a home to search a parked vehicle. The decision is now widely noted as an important Fourth Amendment case and is taught in criminal procedure courses at law schools around the country.
Fitzgerald, whose practice focuses on appellate matters, constitutional issues, and major motions, has won numerous groundbreaking cases in federal and state courts and the Supreme Court of Virginia. He previously served as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and is an adjunct law professor at the University of Richmond, where he teaches legal writing for future law clerks.
David B. Hargett
Owner, Hargett Law
David B. Hargett concentrates his criminal defense practice on appeals and habeas cases. He has devoted the lion’s share of his work to direct appeals and other post-conviction matters.
Hargett has argued numerous cases in the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as he 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He has also been counsel of record on several petitions and amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hargett is past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and is currently a member of the VBA Appellate Practice Section Council. He is licensed to practice law in all state courts of Virginia and the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia.
William H. Hurd
Member, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott
William H. Hurd specializes in federal and state appellate litigation, complex and high-stakes issues, and government and internal investigations. He is also widely recognized as a leading election law attorney.
Hurd’s appellate victories cover a wide array of legal issues, including reversing the denial of a multimillion-dollar tax credit, securing educational benefits for children with disabilities, upholding statutory procedures for restoration of voting rights, and upholding “minute of silence” law for public schools.
Hurd argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Virginia v. Black, obtaining a landmark decision that upheld Virginia’s anti-Klan statute, banning cross-burning with intent to intimidate.
Hurd served as the first solicitor general of Virginia, from 1999 to 2004, and is currently an adjunct professor at the Scalia Law School of George Mason University, where he teaches a course on the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause.
Partner, Jenner & Block
Leading companies in the aerospace and defense, hospitality, technology, and transportation industries benefit from Michelle Kallen’s extensive government experience and insight into multistate and constitutional litigation matters.
During her tenure as the first female solicitor general in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Kallen argued several cases before the Supreme Court of Virginia and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She represented the commonwealth in numerous high-profile matters, including its effort to vindicate ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, defending the constitutionality of Virginia laws, representing the commonwealth in election matters, defending the governor’s COVID relief efforts, and litigation over removal of Confederate monuments.
Kallen also successfully defended the Select January 6th Committee, serving as special litigation counsel against attempts to block subpoenas and an effort to compel testimony from 16 lawmakers and congressional staffers.
Partner, Hunton Andrews Kurth
A first-generation American and former solicitor general of West Virginia, partner Elbert Lin chairs Hunton Andrews Kurth’s appeals practice and sits on the firm’s elected executive committee. He has argued more than 50 cases in state and federal appellate courts, including before the U.S. Supreme Court and several en banc courts of appeals.
During his tenure as solicitor general, Lin won a stay in 2016 from the court of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. That decision was the first chapter in eight years of litigation, culminating in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 decision, West Virginia v. EPA.
Lin speaks regularly on a wide variety of topics, including constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law, state and federal relations, the U.S. Supreme Court, and appellate practice. He has testified before Congress and several state legislatures and has spoken at numerous national conventions.
Monica T. Monday
Monica T. Monday is the chair of Gentry Locke’s Executive Board and heads the firm’s appellate practice. She represents her clients in Virginia’s state and federal appellate courts across a wide variety of cases, including commercial and business disputes, healthcare, property, personal injury, local government matters, domestic relations and more.
Monday frequently lectures and writes on appellate issues. She has served as chair of the Virginia Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Section Council, the Appellate Practice Committee of the Virginia State Bar Litigation Section, and the 4th Circuit Rules Advisory Committee.
Before joining Gentry Locke, Monday clerked for Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr., then-chief judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia (and now a senior justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia). In 2015, Monday was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.
John P. O’Herron
Known for his skills both on the page and in the courtroom, John P. O’Herron concentrates his practice in appellate litigation and motions practice. He has represented businesses, individuals and government officers and agencies in numerous appeals in both federal and state courts.
O’Herron maintains RichmondAppeals.com, a website dedicated not only to providing the latest information on his appellate practice, but also to informing the public on recent and impending changes in appellate law.
He serves as a member of the Joint Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee, Special Committee to Study Appellate Mediation in Virginia. He is vice-Chair of the appellate Section of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel and state chair of the Council of Appellate Lawyers, a division of the ABA. O’Herron formerly served as clerk to Supreme Court of Virginia Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser.
Jay O’Keeffe focuses his practice on appeals, trusts and estates, and consumer-protection litigation. He has briefed or argued dozens of cases before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Virginia, and the state Court of Appeals.
O’Keeffe argued before the Supreme Court of Virginia to expand the rights of victimized employees in VanBuren v. Grubb. In that case, he compelled the court to recognize a common law tort claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy against an individual who was not the plaintiff’s actual employer but who participated in the wrongful firing.
O’Keeffe served as former chair of the Virginia Bar Association Appellate Practice Section Council and of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Appellate Section. In addition to his legal practice, he is a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law. He also publishes a blog, De Novo, that is available at www.virginiaappellatelaw.com.
Julie S. Palmer
Partner, Harman Claytor Corrigan Wellman
The current president of the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys, Julie S. Palmer represents clients in a wide variety of tort and contract claims in state and federal courts throughout Virginia. She focuses her practice on professional liability, premises liability, product liability and commercial disputes.
Palmer is a member of Harman Claytor’s Appellate Practice Group and has significant experience handling appeals and authoring briefs, including briefs amicus curiae, in the Supreme Court of Virginia. She recently handled such an appeal for a professional liability case filed against an insurance agent, securing the trial court’s dismissal of the case.
Palmer formerly held the positions of both chair and vice chair of the Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys’ Appellate Advocacy Section. She also served as president of the Henrico County Bar Association.
Thomas K. Plofchan Jr.
Manager, Westlake Legal Group
Since he founded Westlake Legal Group in 1992, Thomas K. Plofchan Jr. and the firm have assisted more than 16,000 clients. Plofchan litigates both civil and criminal matters in over 100 jurisdictions, representing clients in both civil and criminal matters before appellate courts in Virginia and elsewhere.
Plofchan has obtained numerous six-figure jury verdicts, including five north of $2 million and one in excess of $15 million. He has been granted certiorari and argued appellate cases and/or the highest level of administrative appeals in a diverse array of subject matters.
Plofchan has been admitted pro hac vice in 13 different states and jurisdictions. He provides legal help for those in Virginia as well as in other states to assist at trial and/or appellate analysis and argument.
Juli M. Porto
Partner, Blankingship Keith
Juli M. Porto handles a wide range of appellate civil matters in the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the state Supreme Court. She consults with trial attorneys to develop legal theories of recovery and draft complaints, brief and argue dispositive and post-trial motions, and monitor trials in preparation for defending or prosecuting an appeal.
Porto is a member of the Virginia Bar Association’s Appellate Section Council and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association’s Amicus Committee. She has published several articles in the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Journal, VTLAppeal, and Law360.
Porto was an external law clerk for Hon. Rossie D. Alston Jr. of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. A Distinguished Cadet of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, she was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army and graduated as an honors scholar from New York University.
Brandy M. Poss
Shareholder, Barnes & Diehl
As both a stalwart attorney and prolific author, Brandy M. Poss has established herself as a prime mover on the Virginia legal scene.
Poss focuses her practice in the areas of family law and appellate litigation. She has vast experience in negotiations, trials and appeals, and takes particular pride in keeping her clients well informed on the status of their cases.
Poss, who has an undergraduate degree in biology from Wake Forest University and a JD from University of Richmond School of Law, has handled numerous appeals in the Virginia Court of Appeals. She has spoken at seminars regarding family law appeals and family and divorce law.
Joseph M. Rainsbury
Of Counsel, O’Hagan Meyer
Joseph M. Rainsbury has nearly 20 years of experience representing clients in appellate and trial courts. across the country on a myriad of legal issues. He has been involved in cases from nearly every corner of civil litigation.
Rainsbury successfully represented a bank on an appeal of the first Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower suit filed in the country. He also helped persuade the Supreme Court of Virginia that its anti-spam statue violated the First Amendment, and represented a Chinese bank resisting a subpoena from the Department of Justice.
Rainsbury holds degrees from Harvard College, the University of Virginia College of Arts and Science, and the University of Virginia School of Law. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Hon. Jackson L. Kiser in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
Norman A. Thomas
Founder, Norman A. Thomas PLLC
Norman A. Thomas’s clients benefit from his long and varied experience conducting appeals and trials, his legal writing acumen and editing skills, and his passionate and craftsman-like approach to appellate practice.
Before opening his appellate practice in 2014, Thomas served as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney and deputy city attorney in Norfolk. He also served a total of 11 years as a judge in Norfolk, three years as a general District Court Judge and eight years as a Circuit Court judge.
Thomas currently is a member of the Lewis F. Powell Jr. American Inn of Court. He serves appellate clients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia in appellate tribunals, the State Corporation Commission, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Catherine F. Zagurskie
Chief Appellate Counsel, Indigent Defense Commission
As an executive member of Virginia’s Indigent Defense Commission’s Legislative Team, Catherine F. Zagurskie leads all indigent defense appellate advocacy activities in the commonwealth and is a sought-after expert in the field.
Zagurskie has represented numerous clients before the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals, having composed countless motions, petitions and briefs. She supports over 300 public defenders and 1,500 certified, court-appointed attorneys throughout the commonwealth. She has also launched 11 regional appellate training programs, with support from nine Appeals Court judges and three Supreme Court Justices.
Zagurskie is also an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and serves on the Boyd Graves Evidence Committee, the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Behavioral Health Docket Advisory Committee, and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Opioids and Addiction.