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ALEXANDRIA COURT VACANCY PROMPTS POLITICAL BATTLE In Virginia, a scuffle has broken out over an empty seat on the Alexandria Circuit Court bench. The local bar association and Alexandria’s delegation to the state General Assembly, as well as Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, wanted to elevate Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Nolan Dawkins. He would be the first African-American to sit on the three-judge court. But Republican lawmakers in Richmond had another idea. Earlier this month, they asked Warner to appoint Alexandria solo practitioner Timothy Battle to the spot left vacant when Judge Alfred Swersky retired on July 1. The locals are hopping mad. Republican lawmakers are trying to override “the choice of the people,” says Thomas Cullen, president of the Alexandria Bar Association. Alexandria’s General Assembly delegates, all of whom are Democrats, submitted Dawkins’ name to Gov. Warner for an interim appointment, in anticipation of a full-term appointment when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Warner was set to appoint Dawkins, but wanted concurrence from the Republicans and assurance that they would appoint him to a full term next year. But the Republicans, who reappointed Dawkins to his current post in family court a few years ago, said no. Republicans are simply exercising their right as the majority party in the General Assembly, says Republican lawmaker David Albo of Springfield’s Albo & Oblon. Indeed, under Virginia law the Legislature selects judges. And under long-standing tradition, local bar associations review prospective judges and forward names to their delegation to the General Assembly. (If a vacancy occurs when the Legislature is not in session, the governor may name an interim replacement.) In choosing Battle as their candidate, Republicans did not consult with the local bar association. Albo concedes that bar members “have some justification” for feeling left out and even says the process “wasn’t perfect.” But he says his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly are just being sore losers. Until 2000, Democrats had controlled the General Assembly since the Civil War. “What they’re all mad about is that they don’t get to choose the judges anymore,” Albo says. The result: The seat is likely to remain vacant, as Warner will probably not make an interim appointment. Republican lawmakers say they will name Battle to the bench at next year’s General Assembly. � Siobhan Roth IN-HOUSE COPS FOR PROSECUTORS With crime on the rise and recent reports of the District’s difficult summer trying murder defendants, there couldn’t be a better time for U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr. to unveil a new unit of in-house investigators to work on some of the city’s most violent cases. The federal prosecutor’s office has hired eight investigators and plans to bring on three more to line up witness statements, conduct background checks on witnesses and suspects, coordinate experts, and essentially make sure that serious violent crime cases in Superior Court stay on track. Those tasks until now fell to assistant U.S. attorneys and Metropolitan Police Department detectives. “We really hope this is going to put us in a better position to get convictions,” says Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Lou Leary. “It’s not a criticism of MPD. It’s a reality that we [police and prosecutors] can do a better job in investigations.” Leary insists the added resources are not a response to the rise in local violent crime or recent criticism that cases are not being adequately prepared. Rather, Leary says, the office has sought funding from Main Justice for such a unit since 1995 and only recently won the near $1 million annual budget to do it. The new unit � headed by former D.C. detective Robert Chaney � will consist of 11 in-housers investigating violent crimes where suspects have been charged and will be staffed with those experienced in other law enforcement arenas, such as federal inspector general offices, park police, and police departments in other jurisdictions. In addition, the MPD is detailing another 10 investigators and a sergeant to work with and be trained by the federal investigators. Leary says the unit will not supplant the MPD’s role in a case. “MPD just doesn’t have the resources to do all of this without spending a huge amount of money on overtime,” Leary says. She adds that many district attorney’s offices have in-house investigators: Manhattan has 100, for example; Miami has 40. The prosecutor’s office here has already had two investigators working on white collar cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. � Tom Schoenberg D.C.’s NEWEST BLOWHARD No, not the latest politician on the scene, but Hurricane Isabel, who wreaked havoc last week when she arrived in the D.C. area packing wind gusts of up to 70 miles an hour. The hurricane forced the Sept. 18-19 closure of the federal government, most local governments, and many law firms, including the D.C. offices of Hogan & Hartson; Covington & Burling; Shaw Pittman; Latham & Watkins; and Baker Botts. In Maryland, Silver Spring’s Lipshultz & Hone and Rockville’s Samek McMilliam & Metro were open Sept. 19, though most of their lawyers worked from home. In Alexandria, Va., a tape-recorded message explained that IP powerhouse Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt � as well as the government and the patent office � would be closed on Sept. 19. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless was closed both days, while Neighborhood Legal Services stayed open a half-day on Sept. 18 and roughly half the attorneys reported on Sept. 19. At the D.C. Circuit, arguments scheduled for Sept. 19 were held, albeit at 1:30 p.m., rather than during the customary morning time slot. And the U.S. Supreme Court, as usual, bucked the trend to close, remaining open until 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. The Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice and ex-meteorologist William Rehnquist, relented and remained closed on Sept. 19. � Legal Times Staff COOLEY CASE ON HOLD Former Cooley Godward associate Jane Wagner filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 12, putting on hold the $25 million wrongful-death suit against her and the firm that was set to begin Sept. 15. Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Bruce McCahill continued the case indefinitely. Generally, when a civil defendant files for bankruptcy, the case proceeds, and the plaintiff, if successful in the suit, becomes a creditor in the bankruptcy. Wagner struck and killed Naeun Yoon with her car while driving in Fairfax County, Va., in 2001. Wagner pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, lost her law license, and served a year in jail. She now lives in Illinois. August Steinhilber III of Fairfax’s Brault Palmer Grove & Steinhilber represents Wagner in the civil suit and did not respond to a call seeking comment. Attorney Peter Grenier of Bode & Grenier, who represents Naeun’s father, Young Ki Yoon, says he will seek to have the bankruptcy case dismissed. � Siobhan Roth SAGA CONTINUES Koteles Alexander, who in the late 1980s and 1990s ran the largest minority-owned law firm in the D.C. area, has been hit with ethics charges by the Office of D.C. Bar Counsel. Alexander, former managing partner of Silver Spring’s now-defunct Alexander, Bearden, Hairston & Marks, is accused of federal income tax evasion, giving false information to bar officials, and stealing more than $30,000 from a client’s estate in 1997. The Aug. 30 ethics charges note that Alexander’s law license has been suspended since 1997 for not paying bar dues. In its prime, the Alexander, Bearden firm represented several high-profile clients, including the NAACP and Black Entertainment Television. The firm imploded in April 1997 amid a series of civil suits. Alexander filed for bankruptcy, listing $1.8 million in liabilities. Days after the filing, Alexander was arrested and charged with assaulting a law partner. According to the bar counsel report, the Internal Revenue Service claimed Alexander owed $95,418 in federal income taxes for 1995; the IRS put a lien on his personal account. In an effort to dodge the tax authorities, Alexander used firm accounts and a client account to hide funds, the report states. Alexander could not be reached. � Tom Schoenberg CIVIL FLIGHT The beleaguered Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will experience yet more turnover in its management ranks. Deputy section chief Charlotte Burrows plans to join the staff of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), replacing Olati Johnson as Judiciary Committee counsel. Burrows could not be reached for comment. Last year, Employment Litigation Section chief Katherine Baldwin and three other senior lawyers in the section were involuntarily transferred after clashing with then-division chief Ralph Boyd Jr. The section has struggled with high turnover and been criticized by civil rights advocates for lax enforcement. Section chief David Palmer did not return a call seeking comment. � Vanessa Blum

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