This morning I attended a West Virginia Legal Aid CLE (continuing legal education), which was absolutely free. Only those of us lawyers who actually have to pay for our own CLE’s could care whether or not a CLE is free.
The first speaker was a Family Court judge out of Charleston, and he gave an interesting presentation on several recent developments in West Virginia family law. One interesting case he talked about was a divorce case where the husband absolutely refused to pay as required under the Family Court Judge’s order. So the Family Court Judge threw him in jail. The other lawyer in the case, went and talked, ex parte (without the other side present) to the Circuit Court Judge, and the Circuit Court Judge issued an order sua sponte (at its own initiative) staying the Family Court’s order incarcerating the guy. As it turns out, this was not a legit legal move. So the West Virginia Supreme Court clarified some things, and gave Family Court judges some teeth in their abilities to impose sanctions, including incarceration, on parties in contempt of their orders. So this judge’s message was that attorneys practicing in Family Court matters better be careful from here out, lest they find themselves at the wrong end of the gavel.
Another speaker was a Federal Magistrate Court Judge from the Southern District of West Virginia, who gave an interesting talk on different types of federal cases that frequent the District. The one thing that popped out at me, and that I was completely unaware of, was the degree to which the federal judiciary goes out of their way to assist federal prisoners in their pro se (without a lawyer) cases before the federal courts. The Judge explained that they do everything in their power to help these prisoners find an attorney to represent them, but that if they are unable, they go over their cases with a fine-toothed comb and construe them “liberally.” It’s nice to know that some parts of the judicial system actually work, and that federal judges actually care about those at the lowest wrung of our society. It’s admirable.
Thanks to WV Legal Aid. It’s hard to beat a free CLE and a free lunch.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney