Don’t Hedge Your Bets

Judge’s Pending Retirement Leads Another Big News Day

Yesterday, in a surprise development for the Wone civil case, Judge Brook Hedge announced her retirement effective December 3, 2010.

"Leaving so soon?"

Judge Brook Hedge

As case watchers will recall, there was a change out with the judges in the criminal case.  The swap of judicial calendars earlier this year had Judge Lynn Leibovitz replace Frederick Weisberg.

The defense team fought that switch but in the long run, it seemed to have worked out for them, save for Leibovitz’ dicta.

This news came just hours after other developments in the case.  One regards the Covington and Burling team, and the other involves the Friday, September 10 status hearing.  Details, after the jump.

What the Hedge retirement may mean for the Wone civil case is uncertain.  Mike Scarcella of the Legal Times had this:

“Hedge, who joined the bench in November 1992, is seeking senior status as a judge, meaning she would continue to hear cases if she is approved.  It was not immediately known this afternoon, however, whether she would continue to preside over the Wone case after December.”

Yet some court insiders tell us that a calendar swap like we saw in the criminal trial was also a distinct possibility and a new judge would’ve taken over at some point, perhaps after the first of the year.

And since both legal teams have been playing nice for the past few weeks resolving differences and that a scheduling order has been issued, there’s no need to gather on the 10th:

“The Status Hearing of September 10, 2010 was set as a control date in this matter. Because the Court issued a Scheduling Order and the outstanding motions were resolved, and upon the representation by all the parties that a Status Hearing is no longer necessary, the Court now vacates the September 10 Status Hearing.”

That order by Hedge was preceded by this filing that announced Daniel Suleiman of Covington has withdrawn as a member of Kathy Wone’s legal team:

08/30/2010  Praecipe to Withdraw/Strike Appearance of Daniel M. Suleiman as Counsel for the Plaintiff. Filed. Submitted. 08/30/2010 11:53. ncv. Attorney: SULEIMAN, DANIEL M (495975) ESTATE OF ROBERT E WONE (PLAINTIFF)

What precipitated this change in the lineup is unclear.

For more on yesterday’s events, the Post’s Keith Alexander also weighed in on Judge Hedge’s retirement.

-posted by Craig

JUDGE HEDGE ORDER VACATING THE SPETEMBER 10 STATUS HEARING

44 comments for “Don’t Hedge Your Bets

  1. chilaw79
    09/01/2010 at 9:35 AM

    I wish both Judge Hedge and Mr. Suleiman the best for the future. Judge Hedge has been doing a good job of getting the parties in line, carving out her judicial turf. She has been fair with the parties (from her rulings to date).

    Although the explanation for Mr. Suleiman’s withdrawal is not apparent, he has the makings of a top-notch lawyer. I am sure his name will emerge elsewhere.

    A relatively new name on the Covington team is Stephen W. Rodger, yet another William and Mary graduate (Class of 1997, summa cum laude). He should prove a capable addition to the representation afforded by Covington.

    • denton
      09/01/2010 at 10:25 AM

      chilaw79, Susan, and Liam – Your posts on DC juries at end of JP VCB 2of3 are brilliant! It gives people (not just me) good feelings about what we CAN, and WILL, do to serve our justice.

      boofoc – I hope I did not sound like I attacked you. I am not a lawyer and I only know what the non-lawyer know. I feel better now about DC juror. (It probably don’t last long because I was just pissed from that “hold-out” juror re: recent Blaggo’s verdict.)

      Would you come back to this post again so the rest of us can still hear your opinion about lots of things that we are going after.

      • denton
        09/01/2010 at 10:31 AM

        … sorry Eds, I forgot the ?

  2. Michael
    09/01/2010 at 10:26 AM

    Sounds like she’s only taking senior status, as opposed to full-on retirement status. I think she’ll make this her last major case.

  3. denton
    09/01/2010 at 10:29 AM

    . . . and the outstanding motions were resolved, . . . .

    As a non-lawyer, can someone explain what this is refering to?

    • chilaw79
      09/01/2010 at 10:57 AM

      This refers to the motions to seal (which were denied) and the motion regarding obtaining emails and other evidence directly from Verizon (as opposed to from the defendants) which were withdrawn. It is not clear why the motion was withdrawn but presumably the parties did a work-around and agreed to produce the information some other way, while preserving any privilege and relevance objections for another day.

      • denton
        09/01/2010 at 11:17 AM

        chilaw79 – Thanks a million. You make a good Judge (are you a Judge?), wouldn’t us posters agree?

  4. denton
    09/01/2010 at 11:24 AM

    The Status Hearing is now vacated (and I deleted it from my calendar), what would be the next step for both sides to move the case?

    • denton
      09/01/2010 at 11:32 AM

      Despite Judge Hedge’s retirement, I get a feeling that the civil case starts of quite smooth? No?

      • chilaw79
        09/01/2010 at 11:38 AM

        I think it may be a little like a heavyweight prize fight. The parties came out and took each other’s measure in the first round and the ref stepped in to take control.

        I predict a flurry of punches back and forth in the next few rounds, although a lot of the punches will be in close and hard for us to see. Then, there will be a flurry of motions and the judge will need to make some calls.

        • denton
          09/01/2010 at 11:44 AM

          Don’t Hedge Your Bets! Hmmmm

        • Craig
          09/01/2010 at 11:53 AM

          Courthouse scuttlebutt suggests there may be additional (plaintiff?) motions hitting by the end of this week.

          • Clio
            09/01/2010 at 10:33 PM

            Another document dump just before the holiday weekend, Craig? I trust that more letters will be attached and analyzed — an historian’s dream may be a defendant’s nightmare!

  5. Emily
    09/01/2010 at 12:18 PM

    I don’t know whether this is an appropriate time to raise these issues but I have a couple of questions that I’d like to hear some opinions on:

    1. Being Australian, and therefore more familiar with the British judicial system, I’m somewhat shocked at the, um, “looseness” of the U.S. legal system whereby jurors can be identified as individuals and jurors can comment on their experience to the media.

    For better or worse such things are strictly verboten under the British legal system. A journalist who pursued a juror for comment under the British system would literally find themselves in jail in short order. I can see the all-purpose yanky argument that the judiciary should be scrutinised, etc. but I wonder if anyone has any comment on what I see as the downside of the American system whereby jurors get turned into 15 minute media celebrities in a way that wouldn’t happen under a British system because it would be illegal for the media to report it.

    2. Surely all parties to any legal action in this case are monitoring this site. I personally think that this site is a revolution in the public scrutiny of the legal system (any legal system). But I wonder how much contributors have considered what effect their posts may have on the conduct of those involved in the legal proceedings. Are we helping the defence? Are we helping the prosecution? Are we helping anyone who is smart enough to pay attention? Comments on this issue welcome.

    • chilaw79
      09/01/2010 at 12:39 PM

      The identification of jurors in the United States typically occurs only after conclusion of the case and is entirely voluntary with the jury. Jurors are free to speak after the case (and also are free not to speak). I think this is consistent with American views on scrutiny of the judicial process and the role of jurors as a check on the power of the state. However, unlike Australia and the United Kingdom (especially the latter), federal and state courts in the United States use a voir dire process to attempt to identify any potential bias by jurors (including knowledge of the case, a party, or an attorney for a party). Also, I would note that grand jury proceedings are secret.

      I am not sure how much impact posts on this site have on the prosecution of the case by either side, whether criminal or civil. The parties have knowledge of the facts superior to that we enjoy. I am not sure whether anyone gains anything from reading my posts, but any party is welcome to consider them for what they are worth. I think the lawyers involved on both sides thus far have been pretty smart. My comments are aimed more at people who want to understand what is happening in the case (from my perspective).

      • denton
        09/01/2010 at 5:11 PM

        chilaw79 – You really have delivered, everything! I gain much better understanding of the trial and its process as if I am taking a “litigation 101 online.” I am very grateful to your insight.

        • Three Strikes
          09/01/2010 at 11:22 PM

          Glad you asked Emily, and agree that this blog is a revolution in the public(s) scrutiny of our legal system, which really does not feel as if justice prevails in too many cases.
          But then chilaw79 comes along with an explanation, and I begin to ponder again, seeing it differently, trying to work on my own puzzle pieces of this troubling and absurd case of murder as most of us seem to be doing.
          Thank you chilaw79, and to all of you who present issues, questions, and to all of you who respond.
          This, to me, is a living memorial to Robert, and so, it is time for me to thank the editors as well. : )

    • KiKi
      09/02/2010 at 9:33 AM

      Hi Emily,

      I see the answer to your question a little differently then Chilaw. While I agree that the choice as to whether to talk to the media is that of the juror, and only after the trial and thus there is (technically) no strong arming of jurors.

      I think the bigger problem is what you refer to the phenomenon of “15 minute celebrities.” Over my years of doing criminal trials, I have actually seen this phenomenon become more and more prevalent. Anecdotally, I would say it has to do with our society’s celebration of the 15 minute celebrity and the reality star.

      But more importantly is the effect (or cause) it has on the trial; turning it into a form of entertainment. I think in many places trials have become less formal and more jovial then they used to be. Jurors and Judges and Lawyers make jokes in open court, jurors wear t-shirts and jeans to court. While some may say this is just a changing of the times, I think it has a lot to do with the idea of the trial as entertainment, and the failure to understand the gravity of the situation.

      The other consequence to treating a juror as a celebrity, is that instead of the juror’s sole purpose to be determining the facts, the juror may be thinking about how to use the opportunity for his/her own personal advancement. While I think this is a rare occasion, it is definitely a concern of trial attorneys.

      All that being sad, I am a strong believer in open press and speech and would fight whole heartedly against any limits on the media or jurors’ freedoms. I think like many problems we have in our society, we need to figure out what we can do to change the attitudes of the masses, so that court room proceedings are given the deference that they deserve.

      • chilaw79
        09/02/2010 at 10:17 AM

        I agree with a lot of what you have said. I think there may be some instances (unseemly as they are) where people actually try to serve as jurors on high-profile cases for their own reasons (and may even downplay their own personal bias in voir dire to get a chance to serve on a high profile jury).

        On the other hand, I think it is an important part of the judicial function to have jurors involved in the administration of justice in the United States, especially in criminal cases.

      • Bruce
        09/03/2010 at 12:41 PM

        Hi Emily:

        Like Kiki, I also see the answer to your question a little differently than Chilaw. Particularly his beginning statement in his post:

        “The identification of jurors in the United States typically occurs only after conclusion of the case and is entirely voluntary with the jury.”

        Of course, I defer to Chilaw on DC law, and expect he is surely correct as to how jurors’ identifications are done in DC currently; I look at it from an Illinois perspective only:

        As to identification of jurors in the US typically occurring only after conclusion of the case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest federal court (other than the US Supreme Court) for Illinois, recently ordered the federal trial judge in the Gov. Blaggo corruption case to reveal the names of the jurors before the verdict.

        The federal judge in that case refused to follow that order because he had personally promised the jurors that their names would not be revealed until after the verdict. As you can imagine, this “tussle” between the federal trial judge and the “biggies” on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals made the news here quite a bit.

        Also, as to “voluntariness” of the identifications, whether during or after verdict, there is no such thing in federal court in Illinois.

        Although no juror can be forced to give an interview, their identifications are made of their names, whether they agree to it or not.

        All of the above is because of the press.

        The reason the question went to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was that the Chicago Tribune and other news organizations filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they had the right to the names of the jurors before verdict, and that decision went up to the 7th Circuit, answering “yes” to those news organizations.

        All based upon freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

        If news organizations don’t demand the names, then it is likely that names will not be given out at any time, either before or after a verdict.

        I have mentioned in other posts on here that I really don’t like this, and feel that it is a benefit to the prosecution and a real detriment to the defendants, if jurors know that their names will get out and they could be hounded by the press. Makes it much less likely, in my view, that a lone juror will hold out.

        But, that may be just me.

  6. banshee
    09/01/2010 at 5:16 PM

    Daniel Suleiman is no longer listed on C&B’s Web site.

    • Doug
      09/01/2010 at 6:21 PM

      @banshee Interesting. Following up on this.
      Doug, co-editor

      • 09/01/2010 at 7:45 PM

        It was there around 3 this afternoon when I glanced at it (but didn’t have time to read). By the time I returned to actually read it, maybe half an hour later, it was gone. I’d say someone from C+B is reading wmrw and alerted the IT dept when the link showed up in your posting.

        • denton
          09/01/2010 at 8:33 PM

          Not anymore in C/B Bios, not even in google!

          • Clio
            09/01/2010 at 10:36 PM

            Well, at least, someone is reading our comments, besides Joe and Michael!

            • Susan
              09/01/2010 at 10:48 PM

              It’s almost like he’s been expunged from the Web. Where searches indicate he was listed (atty ratings sites) he’s no longer there.

              Question for Chilaw or any other WMRW attys: Do most court proceedings usually involve judges and attys changing mid-stream or are these traits not so common?

              • chilaw79
                09/01/2010 at 11:27 PM

                A change in the attorneys involved in a case or the judge assigned to a case is not unusual. Law firms are not the sinecures they used to be. I was just thinking to myself that this case seems not to be good for a legal career, especially on the plaintiff’s side.

                The case has been going on for four years, first as an investigation, then the criminal case, and now as a civil case. Four years is a long time to spend on any case.

                The civil case also is on a relatively short discovery schedule so you need to have lawyers who can devote a fair amount of time to the case (and not be involved in cases in other cities). It is just a tough set of facts, too, involving a lot of expert testimony and legal issues. You really need some smart lawyers and judges on this case, with a fair amount of experience.

                The plus side may be that new lawyers will look at this case and synthesize the material more effectively. The more I study this case the tougher it looks.

              • Hoya Loya
                09/02/2010 at 8:25 AM

                When a lawyer moves on from a firm, one of the first things the marketing team does is arrange for the web team to “wipe” the site of any unnecessary references to the lawyer, including of course, the bio.

                They will also contact the major directories (Martindale, Chambers, Legal 500, etc.) to update their sites to reflect the lawyer’s departure.

                My guess is that within a week or two we’ll see an announcement from his new firm or otherwise learn of his new position.

                • banshee
                  09/02/2010 at 9:54 AM

                  Agree. Standard policy. That was my first thought and would explain his w/drawal.

                  • Susan
                    09/02/2010 at 8:41 PM

                    Thanks Chi, Hoya and Banshee for explaining how that works.

  7. Clio
    09/01/2010 at 10:26 PM

    Brook looks so young in that picture: could she really be near her golden years?

    So, if Sept. 10 has been cancelled, when is her next event or status hearing? Or, does everything wait until she picks up her gold watch and eats her cake?

    • Craig
      09/01/2010 at 10:35 PM

      I like cake.

    • chilaw79
      09/01/2010 at 10:41 PM

      Judge Hedge has been a DC Superior Court judge since 1992, and had a distinguished career at the Department of Justice before becoming a judge. My guess is that the picture was taken in 1992 when she was nominated and approved for her position as a DC judge.

      Almost twenty years on the DC Superior Court bench is a pretty full career, especially when you add in a prior stint at the DOJ.

      She deserves a cake and a watch, but I would like her to keep the case, in part given her background in handling domestic violence and criminal cases.

    • chilaw79
      09/01/2010 at 10:45 PM

      I think Judge Hedge will hear a few motions in the case before December as the discovery process continues. There are going to be some issues on the Fifth Amendment, domestic partner privilege and the like that will only be sorted out through motions to compel answers to discovery. I hope the plaintiff stays on offense.

      • 09/02/2010 at 12:12 AM

        Is there a domestic partner privilege? What courts have recognized it? Does it survive the end of a partnership?
        Thanks.

        • chilaw79
          09/02/2010 at 10:10 AM

          There is a statutory domestic partner privilege in DC. There is very little case law in DC, but a DC court should recognize the domestic partner privilege (which is similar to marital privilege) for a registered DC domestic partnership.

          The privilege ordinarily does not survive the end of a partnership.

          There are a number of exceptions and caveats (so if you are asking for a personal reason, consult your own counsel).

          • 09/02/2010 at 10:39 AM

            Thanks! The reason that I asked is that I have seen references to it on this site and wondered what the basis is. Very interesting that it is in statute. The reason I asked about whether it survived the partnership is wondering whether that is why Joe and Victor are still together. Fortunately, no personal reason for my question!

            • chilaw79
              09/02/2010 at 12:03 PM

              The statute is relatively new (although spousal privilege has been recognized for a long time in DC).

              There are likely to be some issues regarding any assertion of the privilege, including whether a joint-crime exception applies, whether conversations occurred in the presence of others, and whether Joe and Victor have waived the privilege (which they cannot do selectively).

              • 09/02/2010 at 7:17 PM

                Thanks ChiLaw79 – Your explanations are always so succinct and clear – I don’t know whether, as another poster asked, you are a judge, but you sure are a terrific teacher!!

                • denton
                  09/02/2010 at 7:43 PM

                  Burke – I wish I have a fraction of chilaw79’s intelligence.

                  • 09/02/2010 at 11:10 PM

                    You got it Denton! Chilaw79 – Hoya – Bea – CD in DC, Clio, Gloria (loved her take on Joe’s use of the F bomb as to Dylan and Robert – really insightful) and so many others bringing their skills and thirst for justice to this site AND our dedicated and smaaaart editors!

  8. boofoc
    09/01/2010 at 11:42 PM

    Denton: Your remark this morning: No offense at all.
    Emily: We would have to suspend some constitutional rights in order to adopt the British system concerning journalists’ ability to seek out and question jurors once their jury service has ended. Whether our opinions/comments are helpful or harmful to either of the parties to this lawsuit is questionable; assume we’ll never know. Be sure to notice during jury selection next June to see if prospective jurors are questoned about “WMRW?”

    • Bruce
      09/03/2010 at 2:28 PM

      Hi boofoc:

      I think it is almost a certainty that the prospective jurors in the Swann 3 civil trial will be asked if they have ever been on WMRW.

      While there certainly will be some concern that simply by mentioning the site, that jurors may for the first time try to look at it, they will be clearly instructed by the judge that they must not look up anything on this case on the internet or read newspaper articles, etc.

      Also, while I agree that whether our comments or opinions are helpful or harmful to any parties in the case is questionable, both sides have very competent and talented attorneys, and it would come as a great surprise to me if anything anyone says on here would assist them in any way.

  9. chilaw79
    09/02/2010 at 3:54 PM

    If Daniel Suleiman reads this blog, I hope he continues to follow this case wherever his career may take him. I recently read some of the articles, Mr. Suleiman wrote for the Harvard Crimson during his years at Harvard. He sounds like a great guy and someone I would have enjoyed meeting.

    For what it is worth, I hope he remains a lawyer, too. Covington and Burling has been the starting point for some great legal careers over the years and I wish him all the best.

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