In 2015, there will be several interesting local DC/MD/VA legal stories to watch unfold starting this week.
On Tuesday, January 6, Former Republican VA Governor Robert (“Bob”) McDonnell is scheduled to be sentenced on his 11 convictions for corruption in office. His wife, Maureen is scheduled to be sentenced later in February. And just as the case played out in the courtroom, it continued with the same theme after the trial. The defense of Bob McDonnell continued to throw wife Maureen McDonnell under the bus as the culprit for his demise. Daughters Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky and Cailin McDonnell Young wrote letters to the judge saying in essence that their mother was to blame for everything. And dad, Bob McDonnell, never wished for any lavish items. The defense has requested three years of community service, in lieu of any jail time. McDonnell would be lucky to get as little as three years of jail. The prosecutors are seeking a ten year prison term. Over 400 letters of support have been written on behalf of McDonnell and presented to Judge James Spencer. McDonnell is the first Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be tried and convicted of a crime. On his 11 counts, the sentencing guidelines range is a little over 10 years to a little under 13 years. Most judges sentence within the guidelines range determined by the U.S. Office of Probation. However, a judge can sentence more or less time. Regardless of the outcome, the case will be appealed.
One of the biggest changes in DC laws was the election of its first Attorney General. Karl Racine was elected in November as DC’s first elected Attorney General- a move that is consistent with 46 other states. As newly elected Attorney General, Racine says he intends to go before the DC Council to expand the powers of the Attorney General. He also seeks to change the way that youth are shackled in Superior Court which is at odds with Chief Judge Satterfield. A showdown between DC and Congress appears to be brewing over DC’s new marijuana law. Although DC voters approved the marijuana law, (“Initiative 71”), at the polls, which makes small amounts of less than one ounce of marijuana subject to non-criminal penalties, Congress has added a rider in the spending bill to block the enactment of the law. Both Karl Racine and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton disagree that Congress can nullify the law.
What started as a missing U VA student, in the case of Hannah Graham case, has turned into 3 cases of possible sexual assaults and two murders. Jesse Matthews has now been charged in the death of Hannah Graham and the sexual assault, attempted murder and kidnapping of an unidentified woman a decade ago in 2005. A third case, Morgan Harrington, has been linked to Matthews through DNA but without any legal action. Two cases and two jurisdictions are waiting for Mr. Matthews. Matthews will be first tried in Fairfax County on March 9, 2015 for the sexual assault of a women in 2005 who was walking home from a grocery store when attacked. The unidentified woman is out of the country but cooperating and expected to testify. The trial is expected to last 2 weeks. The case involving Hannah Graham in Albermarle County has been set for a preliminary hearing after the Fairfax trial in late March.
Alexandria, VA is rarely known for murders. And yet in the case of Charles Severance, the murders of three individuals, Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning are alleged to have occurred at the hands of Severance. In the Severance case, it will be interesting to see if the defense invokes a criminal insanity defense. We will have to wait until the trial date of October 5, 2015 to see how the case unfolds in court. Surprisingly, the three cases will be tried together. Separate cases can be tried together occurring in the same jurisdiction where a pattern and practice is similar. Each case still stands on its own in terms of guilt or innocence based on the facts. But the cases are strengthened from a prosecutor’s standpoint by trying them together.
An interesting Supreme Court case heard in early December, 2014 has ties to the Maryland area. Peggy Young, of Lorton, VA, became pregnant in 2006 while working as a driver for UPS in Landover, Maryland. On doctor’s orders, she requested reduced pounds to lift due to her pregnancy. Typically, light duty is reserved for workers who are injured. Young’s request was turned down and she had to take unpaid leave without medical benefits. She argued to the court that that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” and federal law directs employers to treat pregnant employees the same “as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” If successful before the Supreme Court, her case will have a huge impact on how employers treat pregnant employees. An opinion will likely be heard in the spring.
There will plenty legal stories to cover in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area in 2015. Stay tuned here for updates.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former prosecutor who addresses issues on race and gender in the law.