We kicked off the Rev War for restrictions on our economy, and now we allow it because we’re scared

West Virginia’s Governor (who was elected as a Democrat but who switched parties during an awkward speech at a Trump rally) “shut down” our State’s economy, citing his statutory powers to declare a “State of Emergency.” In each one of his ensuing executive orders mandating that private businesses close and cease operations, he cited the only “emergency powers” his lawyers could find available to him in the West Virginia Code. This is to control ingress and egress (coming and going) from a disaster area, as well as the power to control or restrict the travel and occupancy of people within that disaster area.

Anyone with common sense knows that this ingress/egress language refers to physical disasters, such as floods, mudslides, fires, earthquakes, etc., where you may have trees in the road, flooded roads, forest fires, and so on. No sensible person would dispute that the executive agencies of the state would be best suited to direct such things. But what he’s done in response to COVID-19 is to greatly expand his interpretation of that language to allow him to fill the roll of a temporary dictator. Who could have known that it would be so easy? All he had to do was to declare the entire State a “disaster area” and just control every aspect of it, citing the ability to control “ingress and egress,” etc., within a disaster area.

Take a look at Summers County – right next door to me. Two (2) total cases since it was declared a disaster area four (4) months ago:

COVID-19 statistics for Summers County, West Virginia as of July 12, 2020.

Or my county – Monroe County – as of today. Fourteen (14) total cases since the “State of Emergency” began four (4) months ago. Zero (0) deaths. Twelve (12) have recovered. Three (3) current active cases. So three people have it currently, that they know of; nobody’s died; yet the other fourteen thousands or so people have to get used to the “new normal” of post-apocalyptic life. We’ve already been warned by the health experts, our new czars, that we could be wearing masks for years.

COVID-19 statistics for Monroe County, West Virginia as of July 12, 2020.

There are many more counties like these. How can such a county possibly be considered a disaster area, to which the government needs to control who is coming, going, or occupying the area? To get around this flawed logic, the Governor’s lawyers have alleged that disaster in these areas is imminent or anticipated. As Bulldog from the TV show Frasier would say, “that’s BS, total BS….”

If you actually look at the real statistics provided by the State, it shows that West Virginia’s COVID-19 “disaster” is nominal compared even to nearby states. Our case fatality rate is way lower; our percentage of population which tested positive is way, way, way lower; our percentage of positive tests number is also way, way, way lower. And look at the percentage of the population tested: West Virginia has tested more of its population than the others.

Why the hysterics and the theater from the Governor? Is he scared for his own safety because his health is so bad, that he would punish the rest of us in his own fear? Given that his personal resort, The Greenbrier, which caters to wealthy out-of-staters (from “hotspots”) is currently as busy as ever with guests walking around inside without masks, and given the fact that they are having a world tennis championship there this weekend, I doubt it. It’s more likely, in my opinion, that it’s nothing more than a power grab, similar to other state governors around the country.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

– Edmund Burke

Getting back to the point, let’s say that a disaster is imminent. A hurricane is coming, for instance; or an out-of-control fire is quickly closing in. Nobody would argue that the executive branch of State government should prepare for what is to come – obviously. But fast-forward four months later and no hurricane, flood, fire, or earthquake has every materialized? In such a situation does the Governor just get to continue to claim that every county in the State is a disaster zone? Does he get to close barber shops in both the northern panhandle, where there was a viral “hotspot,” and also a barber shop in a small county at the other end of the state where there has never been a problem? What if there’s no due process involved? No way to challenge it? All in the absence of authorization or participation by the State’s elected two-house legislature, which is supposed to be the voice and representation of the people?

It’s a poignant time to remember that the entire reason our country exists is because American colonists sought economic freedom from the tyranny and oppression of the British government. The colonies grew rich during the French and Indian War. Land prices were high, and both money and credit were abundant. Following the war, however, the money supply was restricted, as England sought to recoup its debts incurred during the war. Interest rates rose and real estate mortgages skyrocketed. Instead of helping, the British government made things worse, suing the colonies to alleviate its own economic problems, instead of assisting the American colonists.

You’ve heard the term, “no taxation without representation.” Well it was created long before the first Prius had a Washington D.C. license plate installed. It was the entire reason, in a nut shell, that the American Revolution was fought. Being a colony, despite being occupied by English citizens, the colonists had no representation in England’s Parliament. Parliament, along with King George, III, enacted legislation throughout the 18th century, which took a slice of the colonies’ profits. Being government, they took more and more until they encountered resistance.

In 1733, the Importation Act was passed, which required all colonial exports to be sent to England first, and in British ships. This deprived American businesses of the large majority of the world market for their lucrative products, and enriched the British establishment for reasons which provided no benefit to the colonies. The Act also created heavy duties on sugar, molasses, and rum. In 1750, Parliament declared that the Americans were not allowed to manufacture steel, so as to compete with British steel factories. They also tried to forbid Americans from harvesting pine trees, from what was a seemingly endless supply of wood (which was not so endless in Europe).

In 1761, Parliament passed a law authorizing customs officers to forcibly enter businesses and search for smuggled goods. A legal challenge ensued in the courts. During the trial, James Otis, a Boston patriot, stated, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” Remember: these are British citizens/subjects. This was not a foreign country. Yet they’re receiving unfair restrictions, while at the same time being prevented from having representation in Parliament.

In 1764, King George III’s ministry declared that Parliament had the right to (1) tax the colonies directly; (2) to tax the colonies indirectly; (3) to restrict the products which the colonies could manufacture; (4) to regulate the commerce of the colonies; (5) to break into houses in search of smuggled goods; and (6) to quarter troops among the colonists without their consent.

In 1765, Parliament passed The Stamp Act, which imposed a direct tax on the American colonies, requiring that many printed materials utilize paper produced in London, which carried an embossed stamp. This included newspapers and all legal documents, among many other things. Americans responded with a boycott. The Act was repealed in 1766. But then Parliament respondent with the Declaratory Act, a new series of taxes and regulations. Its main purpose was to illustrate to the colonists, that Parliament could, and would, do as it wanted, and that the colonists would not have direct representation in their decisions.

“An Emblem of the Effects of the STAMP,” a warning against the Stamp Act published in the Pennsylvania Journal, October 1765; in the New York Public Library.

In 1767-68, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which were a series of laws designed to raise revenue in the colonies, enforcing compliance with trade restrictions, punishing New York for failing to quarter troops, and otherwise asserting the absolute right to directly tax the colonies without representation. Many patriots resisted, both physically and through boycotts. In 1770, this led to the Boston Massacre.

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt. According to the Library of Congress (1): A sensationalized portrayal of the skirmish, later to become known as the “Boston Massacre,” between British soldiers and citizens of Boston on March 5, 1770. On the right a group of seven uniformed soldiers, on the signal of an officer, fire into a crowd of civilians at left. Three of the latter lie bleeding on the ground. Two other casualties have been lifted by the crowd. In the foreground is a dog; in the background are a row of houses, the First Church, and the Town House. Behind the British troops is another row of buildings including the Royal Custom House, which bears the sign (perhaps a sardonic comment) “Butcher’s Hall.” Beneath the print are four sections of verse, which read: Unhappy BOSTON! see thy Sons deplore, Thy hallow’d Walks besmear’d with guiltless Gore: While faithless P–n and his savage Bands, With murd’rous Rancour stretch their bloody Hands; Like fierce Barbarians grinning o’er their Prey, Approve the Carnage, and enjoy the Day. If scalding drops from Rage from Anguish Wrung If speechless Sorrows lab’ring for a Tongue, Or if a weeping World can ought appease The plaintive Ghosts of Victims such as these; The Patriot’s copious Tears for each are shed, A glorious Tribute which embalms the Dead But know, FATE summons to that awful Goal, Where JUSTICE strips the Murd’rer of his Soul: Should venal C–ts the scandal of the Land, Snatch the relentless Villain from her Hand, Keen Execrations on this Plate inscrib’d, Shall reach a JUDGE who never can be brib’d. The unhappy Sufferers were Mess.s SAM.L GRAY, SAM.L MAVERICK, JAM.S CALDWELL, CRISPUS ATTUCKS & PAT.K CARR Killed. Six wounded; two of them (CHRIST.R MONK & JOHN CLARK) Mortally Published in 1770 by Paul Revere Boston 1 print : engraving with watercolor, on laid paper ; 25.8 x 33.4 cm. (plate)

In 1770, most of the taxes from the Townshend Acts were repealed, except for the import duty on tea, which was kept in place for the purpose of demonstrating the subservient nature of the colonies vs. the British government itself. As you’ve probably heard, this didn’t end well, leading to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and thereafter, the “Intolerable Acts” – more laws enacted without representation, which were passed for the sole purpose of punishing Boston for the Boston Tea Party.

In the Declaration of Independence, the Americans asserted 27 grievances against England, including the creation of taxes and economic restrictions without representation in Parliament. Also included in the grievances was the fact that many of the colonies attempted to enact legislation outlawing or restricting slavery. Virginia attempted to outlaw slavery in 1763. However, every time they tried, they were vetoed by the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State, and King George, III. Also contained in the grievances were complaints about the failure to provide fair trials, a fair judicial system, the failure to allow for legitimate colonial legislatures to exist, and the quartering of British troops in American homes. You see many, if not most of these grievances find their way into the U.S. Constitution, which would be ratified 15 or so years later, after many lives were lost to gain the freedom to ratify it.

Why is it important to resist living under the rule of a one-man State government? Even if you think he’s done a good job, which many people do, the bigger picture is the absolute necessity of preserving our rights and liberty under our constitutions. Once you allow one governor a pass to play dictator, you must by circumstance allow the next. And you might not like that, nor his choices. But it would be too late.

A Constitution of Government once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.

– John Adams

Like Thomas Jefferson basically said, freedom is scary. We can’t allow our freedom to end where the fears of Karen/Ken begin.

Timid men . . . prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.

– Thomas Jefferson (April 24, 1796)

We must follow the rules. Our two respective constitutions – the U.S. and the State – are the rules. And of the two, the State Constitution is much more simple and clear on this topic. The two house of the legislature enacts laws, and the governor enforces them. There is a distinct separation of powers. If the Governor tries to enact a law by himself, that violates the separation of powers. Not even the legislature can authorize him to do so. At least not without amending the State Constitution.

Tell the Governor to take a nap and relax – the COVID death rate in West Virginia is one of the lowest

Why do we have a hysterical governor trying to shut down our economy again, which he’s not allowed to do in the first place? Look at the current death rate statistics by state of COVID-19: West Virginia is way down at the bottom, along with Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. Of course diagnoses will rise with the exponential increase in testing going on. But show me the death rate. Look at the restrictions in New York, New Jersey, or Michigan, who have required masks and every other restriction you can think of, and their death rates are sky-high. I thought we had a vulnerable population? That’s what the Governor said before he issued his unconstitutional “Stay at Home Order.” So if we’ve gotten so many cases, and we’re so vulnerable, why are we at the bottom of the list (along with the other low population rural states) for death rate per 100,000 people?

Read for yourself: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1109011/coronavirus-covid19-death-rates-us-by-state/

Our Dear Leader appointed a doctor from WVU as our COVID Czar during this so-called State of Emergency. You’ve seen the same types on the cable news. We didn’t elect doctors from WVU, or anywhere else, to authorize them to control our lives, or take our property without due process. Who do you think stands to gain from all this, in research grants, employment opportunities, profit, and so on? What’s in it for them? Can they just cause the governor to go all hysterical and tyrannical with no questions being asked? With no representation on our behalf? Where are all of our legislators? We are now living in a perpetual “State of Emergency.” Just how many months does a State of Emergency last before the legislature does its job?

Me in court this morning on a criminal case, wearing a mask, while talking to my client, who was inside the television, also wearing a mask.

Our legislators should be asking questions. The medical industry is going to make a fortune off of COVID-19. This is the same bunch, coupled with their benefactors in government, who charge us astronomical prices for common drugs. They require diabetics, who need insulin to live, to keep having to pay to see a doctor avery few months in order keep renewing their prescriptions. Why? Why in the hell should a diabetic need to renew their prescription for insulin just so some doctor can get their cut every few months? You think the lawyers are bad? The medical system is way worse than the legal system, as far as corruption and conflicts of interest go. Remember our very own Sen. Manchin’s daughter increasing the price of the epipen so high that most people could no longer afford it?

The governor is relying on WVU doctors to tell us what rights we get to have? This is the same WVU that prescribed my wife physical therapy for her shoulder, instead of a necessary surgery which could have saved her shoulder function. When we decided to leave the State medical system and go to UVA, they were flabbergasted at the incompetence of the purported best shoulder surgeon at WVU. The shoulder specialist at UVA took an MRI and was astounded. Immediately, being a teaching hospital, he gathered all the students to look at the MRI film. They’d never seen such a bad tear of anyone’s shoulder. Even the specialist had to bring in a sub-specialist to do the surgery. The shoulder was torn in three places. Her bicep was practically hanging by a thread. That was a Thursday, and she was in surgery on Monday. Yet at WVU, the snotty orthopedic surgeon basically told her to toughen up and quit complaining. He spent maybe 5 minutes with her in total, as opposed to the UVA surgeons, who spent probably hours with her.


We didn’t elect them. Maybe they’re right; maybe they’re not. But we didn’t elect them. And even if we did, the executive branch doesn’t enact laws. Our representatives do. Who need to either do their job, or resign. How many more months are we going to allow one governor to rule our state under a State of Emergency? Our State Constitution specifically provides that it will never been suspended – even in a time of war. So why is it suspended?

I know, I know, I’m not allowed to have an opinion because I’m not an epidemiologist, virologist, or other profession which is about to increase in funding levels…. If medical professionals are never wrong, then why are medical mistakes, made by medical professionals, the third leading cause of death in the U.S., causing at least a quarter million deaths per year?


“People don’t just die from heart attacks and bacteria, they die from system-wide failings and poorly coordinated care,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s medical care gone awry.”

The magnitude of the death toll – roughly 10 percent of U.S. deaths annually – is striking coming, as it does, in an era dominated by efforts to reform the health system to ensure safe, high quality, high-value medical care. Patient safety efforts have failed to gain much traction, Makary says, because there’s no systematic effort to study medical errors or to put effective safeguards in place.

“Throughout the world, medical error leading to patient death is an under-recognized epidemic,” Makary and his co-author, Dr. Michael Daniel, also of Johns Hopkins, write in Tuesday’s British Medical Journal. They define medical errors as lapses in judgment, skill or coordination of care; mistaken diagnoses; system failures that lead to patient deaths or the failure to rescue dying patients; and preventable complications of care.

https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/medical-errors-are-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-the-us

See Medical Errors Are Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S., US News Magazine, May 3, 2016. Are doctors infallible? Do doctors even know what the hell they’re talking about yet, based on actual empirical evidence about the COVID-19? No. For all we know, they could be guessing, or playing politics.

I’m not trying to knock doctors. I don’t do medical malpractice. My own father is an orthopedic surgeon, who has spent his life wearing masks, and also bathing in people’s blood (figuratively speaking, lol). But those were always new masks every time. He wasn’t walking around with one constantly, or driving around with one on. Nor organizing his life around it. Tell him about the new cases daily, and he’ll say: show me the death rate. The more you test, the more cases you’ll have.

If it’s really an epidemic, we’ll all get it at some point. Who among us has never had the flu? The most important part of the entire ordeal is, but yeah, did we die? Some will. But I also heard a story while in court this morning, about a guy who got his penis disintegrated in an electrical accident. Shit happens. We move on with our life. None of this is a reason (nor could there ever be a sufficient reason) to end the great experiment in freedom that is America. People have never been safer from death, nor more prosperous, in the entire history of the Earth.

In an obese, unhealthy state, as West Virginia is, why isn’t the Governor concerned with the almost 5,000 deaths per year in our state alone due to heart disease? I’m sure he could think of all sorts of executive orders which actually could help that problem, assuming it were legal for him to do so. He could be like Michael Bloomberg: No 32 ounce sodas (or “pop” as West Virginians generally call it); No more Mountain Dew (the pop, not the sweet nectar of mountain life) because it rots your teeth worse than the meth. Pepperoni rolls could have a mandatory minimum jail sentence. Would these restrictions save lives? Yes. We could have all Michelle Obama school lunches and Michael Bloomberg dinners, and it would no doubt save lives, in the context of heart disease prevention and treatment.

At some point, we’re going to have to say that enough is enough. I’m told that people are about to start getting fired, as well as getting arrested, based on the choice to not wear a mask. All based on the decision of the Governor. We’ll see what happens . . . .

Today’s New West Virginia Mandatory Mask “Law”

As the attorney for the pending lawsuit against the West Virginia Governor which challenges his executive actions in response to COVID-19, people have asked for my reaction to today’s new mandatory requirement that the peasants of West Virginia are now required to wear masks in public and private buildings.

Here’s the executive order itself.

So it requires masks to be worn in any building outside one’s home, whether publicly or privately owned, unless you’re under the age of 9, have some medical reason which excepts you, or if you’re eating food, or drinking a beverage, or if you are able to “socially distance.” It even seems to allow a Halloween mask to qualify as appropriate under the order. I’m sure he’ll cancel Halloween, so that might be one diamond in a sea of rough (that we can at least use the masks – not that he’ll rob us of Halloween, even though we never needed his permission any of the past Halloweens). It seems to be a situation where the exception is swallowing most of the rule. How do you even enforce such a mandate without definitions of the terms?

I’d love to sue over this, but I highly doubt anyone gets arrested. As such, our currently pending lawsuit probably sufficiently covers this. Even though it’s not an exciting argument, it’s a very clear and simple violation of our State Constitution. We have a tri-cameral form of Republican government. The legislature enacts laws. The governor signs, or vetoes, the laws they enact, and the judicial branch reviews both of their actions to keep them within the confines of the Constitution.

Here, the Governor has unilaterally enacted a new law. You can’t go in a store or any structure other than your own home, unless you’re wearing a mask – even if the mask is useless and pointless. In the end, what’s going to happen here? What’s the point? The Governor gets to do his mask thing, like some of the other governors, and also create some news, appease the numerous Karens on Facebook, who are absolutely terrified to death over everything. And who is going to bear the brunt of attempting to enforce it? I can almost guarantee the police are not going to do a darned thing here. At least I wouldn’t. It will be small businesses across the State who will be forced to decide what to do with this.

Do I close my store? Do I make someone leave if they’re not wearing a mask? What if they say they have a medical reason not to wear one? Is the liability and hassle even worth it? As a shopper, do I just give up on shopping locally and just go back to ordering online? Hell, you can order entire meals now, delivered in a box. As with the other illegal laws he enacted without the legislature, it’s the small businesses that will suffer. And the cherry on the cupcake is the fact that they’ve had no representation. They can’t complain to their elected representatives, because they’ve been powerless – themselves excluded from the entire process.

But, you ask, why is this such a big deal? Do you complain about wearing a seatbelt in your car? Do you know obey the posted speed limits? Do you not use a child safety restraint in your car? Here’s my answer to that. For instance, W. Va. Code Section 17C-15-46, entitled “Child Passenger Safety Devices Required; Child Safety Seats and Booster Seats, is a part of the huge set of written laws by which we’re all bound here in West Virginia, called the “West Virginia Code.” This is the mountain of rules created by our legislature, and signed by past governors. This is what makes it illegal to not drive a little kid around without a children’s car seat. There are many others, requiring the use of seatbelts, helmets on motorcycles, and so on.

Here is the law itself:

W. Va. Code §17C-15-46 provides that:

Every driver who transports a child under the age of eight years in a passenger automobile, van or pickup truck other than one operated for hire shall, while the motor vehicle is in motion and operated on a street or highway of this state, provide for the protection of the child by properly placing, maintaining and securing the child in a child passenger safety device system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards: Provided, That if a child is under the age of eight years and at least four feet nine inches tall, a safety belt shall be sufficient to meet the requirements of this section.

Any person who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than $10 nor more than $20….

So, who decided that child safety seats were necessary, and that children under the age of 8 required one? After all, maybe it should be age 10 and under… or maybe age 7….. The answer is, your elected representatives in the legislature. That’s who. Our legislators are supposed to debate things, right? And then vote on it. Contrast the child safety seat law with today’s new mask law: ages 10 and over have to wear one. Because, safety.

I’m not seeing the difference. The State Constitution provides that the Governor can call the legislature into session if he thinks some new immediate legislation needs to be considered. Our State legislature has not met one time, nor considered one fact or piece of legislation, since the whole COVID crisis began. The Governor has had months and months to do so. But he hasn’t. Why? Because what King in history has ever given up power unnecessarily?

Whatever happened to “The Comeback.” We were “West Virginia Strong” (which he stole from the 2016 flood relief response) and also at some point heading down some confusing and nonsensical phase of “The Comeback,” but now we have to wear masks? The last executive order was opening the State to fairs and festivals…. What the heck? As Zoolander would say, “West Virginia Strong? More like West Virginia weak!” Or, “Montani Semper Liberi? More like Montani Semper Servus.”

Is it a coincidence that, of all the days the Governor does this that Time Magazine reports that Governor Justice’s businesses have received millions of dollars of COVID relief packages?

Billionaire West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s family companies received at least $6.3 million from a federal rescue package meant to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday.

https://time.com/5863410/west-virginia-governor-companies-coronavirus-loans/

Read it for yourself, here: https://time.com/5863410/west-virginia-governor-companies-coronavirus-loans/

Justice acknowledged last week that his private companies received money from the program but said he did not know specific dollar amounts. A representative for the governor’s family companies did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

https://time.com/5863410/west-virginia-governor-companies-coronavirus-loans/

This rings a bell for me. I represented at least one casino-business creditor, who had long been owed money for services already performed by the governor’s casino. We sent a letter threatening to sue. The money just happened to finally come in right about the time the PPP loan cash arrived. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but . . . .

So he’s both making the laws all by himself, and also cashing in on the laws he’s making. No wonder he’s not interested in calling the legislature in. Our case challenging his prior executive orders, which were incorporated into this one in the prefatory clauses, remains pending before the West Virginia Supreme Court. We could still win that case, as they haven’t ruled yet.

If you want to review our case, as well as the Governor’s response, here’s the link, though it’s just a few posts down:

https://thecivilrightslawyer.com/2020/07/01/update-on-the-lawsuit-against-the-west-virginia-governors-covid-executive-orders/

ATV laws in West Virginia and McDowell County, W. Va.

So a few days ago, I represented a guy down in McDowell County, West Virginia, on a misdemeanor charge of driving on a two-lane road in an ATV/UTV/side-by-side. West Virginia law allows you to do this. But apparently there is confusion, or ignorance, in the local sheriff’s department and/or prosecutor’s office. We were forced to have a trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict. Here’s the actual criminal complaint charging my client with the non-crime of operating an ATV on a two-lane road in West Virginia:

Clearly this police officer was wrong about the law.

W. Va. Code Section 17F-1-1 allows ATVS to:

  1. Operate on any single lane road (most roadways in rural West Virginia).
  2. Operate on a two-lane road for a distance of 10 miles or less, so long as the ATV it is either on the shoulder of the road, or as far to the right on the pavement as possible if there is insufficient shoulder to ride on, and at a speed of 25 mph or less, in order to travel between “a residence or lodging and off-road trails, fields and areas of operation, including stops for food, fuel, supplies and restrooms.” If operated at night, an ATV must be equipped with headlights and taillights, which must be turned on – obviously. Read it for yourself, here: https://www.wvlegislature.gov/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=17f&art=1

So, slightly confusing and a few grey areas, but if you’ve been around the Hatfield & McCoy Trails, you know that it’s necessary to use a two-lane road at times to get where you need to go on an ATV. And in other counties, where there are no Hatfield & McCoy Trails, we still need to go down two-lanes at times to get from one place we’re allowed to ride, to another (whether farms/fields/one-lanes/gas stations, etc.)

Me negotiating down a black diamond trail in the Hatfield & McCoy Trail system. Pocahontas Section, I believe.

Unfortunately however, when we arrived to court on this particular case, the prosecutor looked at me in amazement when I told her that the client hadn’t committed a crime, even assuming all the allegations in the criminal complaint are true. She said dismissively that the client could plead guilty and pay the fines. Of course, I said, “no way, Jose.”

So we had a trial. During the trial, the charging police officer testified that no ATVs are ever allowed to be on a two-lane road, and that his supervisor instructed him, in accordance with this, to “clear” ATVs from the roads, because the Hatfield & McCoy system was closed by the Governor due to COVID-19.

But that has nothing to do with the statute. The Governor can’t change the ATV laws by executive order; nor did he attempt to. Accessing the H&M trails isn’t the only reason ATVs are used in West Virginia. The officer cited 17F-1-1 as his legal authority to “clear the roads.” But in reality, the law still says what it says. Therefore, the magistrate judge correctly found my client not guilty.

There had been no allegations of unsafe or improper operation of the ATV – just that he was on a double yellow line. The officer testified that he didn’t know where the client was coming from – nor where he was going. He had no evidence that my client had been illegally operating on the H&M trail system. The complaint itself corroborates this. It didn’t mention anything other than the fact that he caught him on a two-lane.

However, there were facts pertaining to the officer’s conduct. He got angry and took the citation back, after the mayor of the town where this occurred – Northfork – apparently said that ATVs were welcome and allowed in her ATV-friendly town. Muttering the “F word,” the officer left the city hall, confiscated citation in hand. The testimony at trial was that about an hour later, the officer showed up at my client’s residence – the client wasn’t even home at the time – and threw the citation inside the empty, parked ATV in the driveway. That wasn’t the reason for the not guilty verdict, just a bizarre way to re-issue a ticket. But in any event, it was a non-crime, so the verdict was rightly “not guilty.”

Following the trial, I posted on Facebook that my client had been found not guilty, and that the Governor’s tyrannical executive orders had no effect on the state’s ATV laws, and expressed disbelief that the local sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office would hassle ATV riders, when that’s really the only thing the local economy has going for it at this point. Did I bash a county by saying this? No, facts are facts. I said nothing about the county, unless you’re referring to the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office prosecuting an innocent man for a non-crime.

Let’s look at the facts though…..

To argue that McDowell County doesn’t have a crisis economy is to stick your head in the sand. Pointing this out is not bashing, nor exploiting, the county. Anyone who makes such an accusation, is either ignorant, or a willing propagandist. Hell, in 1963 – I’ll repeat: 1963 – President John F. Kennedy said:

I don’t think any American can be satisfied to find in McDowell County, West Virginia, 20 or 25 percent of the people of that county out of work, not for 6 weeks or 12 weeks, but for a year, 2, 3, or 4 years.

The situation has only worsened there. McDowell County has been classified as a “food desert” by the USDA. In 2017, there were two full-sized grocery stores serving the county’s 535 square miles. The only Walmart super center in the county closed in 2016 Coyne, Caity (April 7, 2018). “In McDowell County ‘food desert,’ concerns about the future”Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved January 19, 2020. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another closed Walmart anywhere in the country.

Vacant Walmart building in Kimble, W.Va.
CREDIT ROXY TODD/ WVPB; https://www.wvpublic.org/post/what-happens-when-walmart-closes-one-coal-community#stream/0

State officials estimate that there are between 5,000 to 8,000 abandoned homes and buildings in McDowell County alone that need to come down. Legislation was introduced this year to fund the removal of many of these “blight” areas. See https://www.register-herald.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-removing-blight-swope-s-measure-important-to-west-virginia/article_6d4359cf-8b21-5430-9769-2f874e8fee9b.html They’ve been working on this for years. From a newspaper article from 2015:

WELCH — For years, it has been difficult for McDowell County officials to recognize the obvious fact that deserted and dilapidated structures countywide represent a negative image for visitors to the county.

“U.S. Route 52 is the gateway to our county,” Harold McBride, president of the McDowell County Commission said during a press conference Friday morning at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch. “It looks like a Third World country,” he said and added that most of the dilapidated buildings are owned by people who live outside the state and “think they have something.”

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/officials-and-coal-operators-work-to-remove-blighted-structures/article_e4961188-00f9-11e5-86d4-4b27287a4886.html?mode=jqm

From the Charleston Gazette in 2013:

There were 100,000 people in McDowell County in 1950. Today, there are about 22,000 residents,” Altizer said.From 2000 to 2010, McDowell County’s population dropped by nearly 20 percent, from 27,329 people to 22,064 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”It is so sad we are losing so much population. Half of our homes are on homestead exemption, which lowers property taxes for people who are over 65 or disabled,” Altizer said during a recent interview in the McDowell County Courthouse.Today, Altizer said, most income to county residents come from coal and natural gas jobs, or from checks retired people receive — Social Security, black lung, the Veterans Administration and United Mine Workers.”The monthly West Virginia Economic Survey prepared by Workforce West Virginia recently reported there were about 6,000 people working in the county, many of them with government jobs or fast-food jobs. We have an older population today. And there are not new jobs here,” Altizer said.”Coal and gas are keeping us going. 

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/business/mcdowell-county-fighting-long-term-decline/article_cb381937-e129-59fd-8d7d-f1fb88dbe6a1.html

Here’s an interesting article, with photos from an actual photographer, rather than the few I snapped with my obsolete iPhone. Take a look for yourself and determine if the few pictures I snapped were somehow misleading about the blight in the county:

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

From the article:

This decline in work lead to the creation of modern era food stamps. The Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Paynesville, McDowell County were the first recipients of modern day food stamps in America. Their household included 15 people. The city of Welch, and crowds of reporters watched as Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman delivered $95 of federal food stamps to Mr. and Mrs. Muncy on May 29, 1961. This was an important moment in history, as it was the first issuance of federal food stamps under the Kennedy Administration. This federal assistance program continued to expand for years to come, and is commonly used across the United States today.

https://architecturalafterlife.com/2018/01/12/welcome-to-welch/

Fortunately for the county, in 2018, the state opened two new trail connections in McDowell County. From a May, 2018 newspaper article:

WELCH — Two new ATV trail connections opening today in McDowell County will give visitors direct access to the city of Welch and the town of Kimball, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority’s executive director said Tuesday.

“As of in the morning (today), we’ll have the town of Kimball and the city of Welch will be connected to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in the Indian Ridge system,” Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk said. “This will allow riders of the trails to go into those communities to get food and fuel and to stay. These are two new towns that weren’t on the system. Up until today, the only two towns that were connected were Northfork and Keystone….

The new Warrior Trail will connect with Gary and Welch. ATV riders will be able to travel from the town of Bramwell to the town of War starting on Labor Day, he added. More lodging opportunities are needed to help McDowell County’s communities benefit from the increase ATV tourism traffic.

“We’re opening the Warrior Trail System up on Labor Day Weekend,” Lusk said. “We’re in desperate need of places to stay in War, Gary and Welch come Labor Day Weekend.

Tourism traffic continues to grow on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail’s overall system, Lusk stated. Last year, overall permit sales were up by 15.1 percent, and both Mercer and McDowell Counties had the highest growth in sales. 

https://www.bdtonline.com/news/new-trail-links-opening-on-hatfield-mccoy/article_6d82ce36-5e22-11e8-a13b-a3912708cd04.html

Being an ATV rider myself, I know first hand how the community benefits from the ATV economy. Local entrepreneurs now have opportunities to open ATV resorts, restaurants, and other businesses, which cater to ATV riders. ATV riders bring money. These new ATVs are 15-30k vehicles, each, when it comes to the side-by-sides, and not far off from that for the individual four wheelers. Watch them drive in. They’re driving 70k trucks, pulling 10k trailers, in many instances. They’ve invested heavily in the hobby. They spend money, not only on their equipment, but on food, lodging, gas, and so on. And they come from all over. I’ve even seen guys who drove all the way from Mexico to ride these trails.

Riding somewhere down there….

Some of them even invest in local real estate, such as the client I represented in this case, who loved the community so much, he bought his own place. But go on and attack me for daring to “bash” McDowell County…. So let’s continue with some facts, instead of knee-jerk emotion.

What are some of the side effects of the economic problems?

Of 3,142 counties in the U.S. in 2013, McDowell County, West Virginia ranked 3,142 in the life expectancy of both male and female residents. See http://www.healthdata.org/sites/default/files/files/county_profiles/US/2015/County_Report_McDowell_County_West_Virginia.pdf,; see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDowell_County,_West_Virginia

 Males in McDowell County lived an average of 63.5 years and females lived an average of 71.5 years compared to the national average for life expectancy of 76.5 for males and 81.2 for females. Moreover, the average life expectancy in McDowell County declined by 3.2 years for males and 4.1 years for females between 1985 and 2013 compared to a national average for the same period of an increased life span of 5.5 years for men and 3.1 years for women…..

Then there’s the drug problem. In 2015, McDowell County had the highest rate of drug-induced deaths of any county in the U.S., with 141 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate for the U.S. as a whole is only 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (Same citation).

So back to my original point. There’s 99 problems there, and ATVs ain’t one of them. So why hassle ATV riders when they’re bringing money, jobs and fun into the local economy?

Again, ATVs are allowed on single lane roads in West Virginia, and are also allowed on two-lane roads, to get from one place they’re allowed to operate, to another place they’re allowed to operate, so long as it’s a distance of 10 miles or less, and so long as they operate on the shoulder, or as far as the right as possible, and under the speed of 25 mph. Counties and cities in West Virginia are granted the authority by the legislature to increase ATV freedoms. Other than interstate highways, they can authorize ATVs to use two lanes within their jurisdictions with no restrictions whatsoever. That would be what signage would refer to as being “ATV Friendly.”

That’s the law anyways. Whether or not law enforcement and prosecutors in any particular county care or not…. well that’s a different issue.

Update on the lawsuit against the West Virginia Governor’s COVID executive orders

The West Virginia Governor finally submitted his response to our Petition for Writ of Mandamus currently pending before the West Virginia Supreme Court, which challenges his COVID-19 executive orders, closing the state’s economy, among other things. Here’s our petition, if you haven’t read it:

Here is the response brief submitted on behalf of Gov. Justice:

At this point, the Court can now rule on the petition by issuing a written opinion, or can schedule oral arguments. Here’s my initial thoughts on the response. It was written by the Solicitor General under the West Virginia Attorney General, rather than by anyone actually in the Governor’s office, or hired by him. Thus, I think the takeaway from what I see here is a lackluster argument about procedure, rather than a position on the constitutional issues presented. It seems to me that what’s more important, is what went un-said, rather than what was said.

The Governor’s response doesn’t really contest the allegations that he’s acted beyond his constitutional limitations, but rather argues that it should be up to the legislature to stop him, rather than the judicial branch. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of having a judicial branch? It is exactly the purpose of the West Virginia Supreme Court to review questions regarding the extent of the Governor’s executive powers. While they argue that it should be submitted to a circuit court judge first, it would still go right back to the Supreme Court to be decided. It would just cause delay.

Again, reading between the lines here, my takeaway from their filing is, they sent an implicit message to the Court that, so long as they sufficiently address and decide the procedural questions, the Attorney General’s position is that there’s no substantive defense to the constitutional issues. Therefore, if the Court desires the case to go before a circuit court judge first, for some reason, then we can do that, and at some point the constitutional powers issues must still be addressed. I’d be more worried if I saw a convincing substantive argument about emergency powers and its interaction with the state constitution. But I didn’t see one.

As far as the procedural questions go, the response brief focuses on the legislature’s ability to use a supermajority to call itself into session. However, this is a red-herring. Whether or not the legislature is willing, or able, to do its job, or to reign in an out-of-control governor, is besides the point. Maybe they could do it if they had a supermajority. But that doesn’t have any bearing on the issue of the extent of the Governor’s executive powers. He either has the constitutional ability to do what he’s been doing; or he doesn’t. That’s like saying that President Trump can be dictator until Congress steps in to stop him. No. He can’t be a dictator, regardless of whatever Congress does, or doesn’t do. These two things are being conflated.

But all in all, I see the response as implicitly supportive on the underlying constitutional arguments. That being said, we’ll just have to wait and see what the Court does. The issues aren’t going away. If they want us to go to circuit court, we’ll go to circuit court. If they want us to serve pre-suit notice, even though it’s not required, we’ll do that and return. If we have to go to federal court to find relief….. we’ll go there. We will obtain judicial review.

From the day we filed:

What is Qualified Immunity and why does it fail at life?

Section 1983 lawsuits allow private citizens to sue individual government officials, including police officers, for violations of federal rights performed under color of law.

If a government officer violates a federally protected civil right, the citizen has the legal right to file a civil lawsuit against the officer. 42 USC 1983, passed in 1871, allows citizens to sue state and local government officials – especially police officers – for damages when their rights are violated. Even if they’ve suffered no monetary damages, if they are successful, they’re entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and expenses. The same sort of lawsuit is available against federal officials pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971). Those are known as “Bivens actions.” But before these lawsuits can be successful, they have to get past the obstacle of the Qualified Immunity defense.

Qualified Immunity is a defense to civil lawsuits alleging the violation of federal rights while acting under color of law. It does not apply as a defense to criminal prosecution.

Qualified Immunity is a civil defense to these lawsuits, provided to government officials by the Supreme Court initially in the case of Pierson v. Ray in 1967, and then again, in its current form, in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, in 1982. It was rearranged yet again in Pearson v. Callahan (2009) giving federal judges more discretion in granting qualified immunity.

Qualified Immunity has been the subject of intense debate in recent years, and especially in recent months. Many commentators have criticized it as an example of the Court creating legislation from the bench, and in so doing having created a significant problem for citizens seeking to hold their government officials accountable for the violations of their civil rights.

As Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt has written, the Supreme Court’s recent qualified immunity decisions have “created such powerful shields for law enforcement that people whose rights are violated, even in egregious ways, often lack any means of enforcing those rights.” Three of the foremost experts on Section 1983 litigation—Karen Blum, Erwin Chemerinsky, and Martin Schwartz—have concluded that recent developments in qualified immunity doctrine leave “not much Hopeless for plaintiffs.” 

Although the concept of qualified immunity was drawn from defenses existing in the common law at the time 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was enacted, the Court has made clear that the contours of qualified immunity’s protections are shaped not by the common law but instead by policy considerations. In particular, the Court seeks to balance “two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” 

The Supreme Court’s original rationale for qualified immunity was to shield officials from financial liability. The Court first announced that law enforcement officials were entitled to a qualified immunity from suits in the 1967 case of Pierson v. Ray. That decision justified qualified immunity as a means of protecting government defendants from financial burdens when acting in good faith in legally murky areas. Qualified immunity was necessary, according to the Court, because “[a] policeman’s lot is not so unhappy that he must choose between being charged with dereliction of duty if he does not arrest when he had probable cause, and being mulcted in damages if he does.”

How Qualified Immunity Fails, by Joanna C. Schwartz, Yale Law Journal, 127:2 (2017).

The reality of Qualified Immunity, through my eyes, which are the eyes of someone who litigates civil rights lawsuits mostly as a plaintiff, is that it’s more of an annoyance in the usual case litigated by an experienced civil rights attorney, but that it’s often a problem in those unique cases where justice really should be served, but isn’t. The big problem, in my opinion, is the use of an objective standard. Common sense tells us that bad faith conduct by law enforcement should be punished. But the subjective bad faith, or malicious intentions, of a defendant police officer, surprisingly may not even be admissible in court. Because it’s usually irrelevant under the standard.

Qualified Immunity is analyzed using an objective standard, rather than subjective.

At its inception in 1967, there was a subjective component to the qualified immunity analysis. From 1967, when qualified immunity was first announced by the Supreme Court, until 1982 when Harlow was decided, a defendant seeking qualified immunity had to show both that his conduct was objectively reasonable and that he had a “good-faith” belief that his conduct was proper. In 1982, the Court in Harlow dropped the second part, the subjective good faith belief requirement, finding that such a requirement was “incompatible” with the policy goals of qualified immunity, which now not only was to protect law enforcement officers from financial liability, but also now to avoid subjecting them to either the costs and burdens of trial, as well as the burdens of broad-reaching discovery.

Qualified Immunity cannot be justified as a means of reducing civil litigation surrounding allegations of police misconduct.

In a recent study discussed in a Yale Law Journal article, out of a study of 1,183 lawsuits against state and local law enforcement defendants, over a period of two years, in five federal district courts, it was found that qualified immunity was only raised as a defense in 37% of the cases, and out of those, only resulted in dismissal in 3.6% of the casesSee How Qualified Immunity Fails, by Joanna C. Schwartz, Yale Law Journal, 127:2 (2017).

I’ll repeat that: out of 1,183 lawsuits against police officers for civil rights violations, Qualified Immunity was raised as a defense by the officers in only 37% of the cases, and out of those, only 3.6% resulted in dismissals.

Another study by Alexander Reinert, looking at Bivens actions (against federal officials), found that grants of qualified immunity led to just 2% of case dismissals over a three year study period. However, the big difference in those cases from regular Section 1983 cases, is that the defense attorneys are Assistant United States Attorneys – members of the civil branch of each federal district’s federal prosecutor’s office. As such, they may take a different route of defense, as a matter of DOJ policy. So they are somewhat different creatures, though both involve issues of Qualified Immunity.

Therefore, according to the numbers, “Qualified Immunity” itself is rarely the formal reason that civil rights lawsuits against law enforcement end. Moreover, there are certain types of cases where qualified immunity cannot be utilized, such as those against the employers of law enforcement officers (Monell Claims). Out of the 1,183 cases studied, 8.4% fell into this category. 

The Yale study also showed that most of the qualified immunity litigation is taking place at the summary judgment stage, or even the trial stage, rather than at the motion to dismiss stage, as the Supreme Court apparently intended. That means that litigation is not being avoided. It is perhaps being increased. 

As Alan Chen has observed, when considering the deficiencies of qualified immunity, “the costs eliminated by resolving the case prior to trial must be compared to the costs of trying the case . . . . [T]he pretrial litigation costs caused by the invoking of the immunity defense may cancel out the trial costs saved by that defense.”

How Qualified Immunity Fails, by Joanna C. Schwartz, Yale Law Journal, 127:2 (2017).

Moreover, Qualified Immunity likely increases the expense, as well as the delays, associated with federal civil rights litigation.

Although qualified immunity terminated only 3.9% of the 979 cases in my dataset in which qualified immunity could be raised, the defense was in fact raised by defendants in more than 37% of these cases—and was sometimes raised multiple times, at the motion to dismiss stage, at summary judgment, and through interlocutory appeals. Each time qualified immunity is raised, it must be researched, briefed, and argued by the parties and decided by the judge. And litigating qualified immunity is no small feat. John Je ries describes qualified immunity doctrine as “a mare’s nest of complexity and confusion.”155 Lower courts are “hopelessly conflicted both within and among themselves” as a result. One circuit court judge reported that “[w]ading through the doctrine of qualified immunity is one of the most morally and conceptually challenging tasks federal appellate court judges routinely face.”

How Qualified Immunity Fails, by Joanna C. Schwartz, Yale Law Journal, 127:2 (2017).

Qualified Immunity cannot be justified as a means of protecting police officers from personal financial liability.

In the study of 1,183 civil lawsuits, police officer defendants paid little, to none, of settlement or verdict amounts. Out of the 44 largest law enforcement agencies included in the study, which included 70 agencies overall, the individual officers paid just 0.02% of the dollars awarded to the plaintiffs in those suits. In the 37 smaller and midsize law enforcement agencies, no individual officer contributed any amount to any award to a plaintiff during this period. All of the officers were indemnified by the employers, even where they were fired, disciplined, or even criminally prosecuted for their conduct. This has been my experience as well, except in one particular case I’ve personally been involved with. I only know of one other instance in West Virginia where there was a second occurrence.

Qualified Immunity cannot be justified as a means of protecting police officers and government officials from the non-financial burdens of discovery and trial.

Often discussed in Qualified Immunity caselaw is this phrase, and so-called policy objective, of shielding government officials from the burdens of participating in a lawsuit, including the discovery process and the trial itself. For this reason, courts have the discretion to apply Qualified Immunity early in the litigation, including at the motion to dismiss stage, prior to any discovery being conducted. However, the study shows that this policy goal is not being met.

I found that, contrary to judicial and scholarly assumptions, qualified immunity is rarely the formal reason that civil rights damages actions against law enforcement end. Qualified immunity is raised infrequently before discovery begins: across the districts in my study, defendants raised qualified immunity in motions to dismiss in 13.9% of the cases in which they could raise the defense. 

These motions were less frequently granted than one might expect: courts granted motions to dismiss in whole or part on qualified immunity grounds 13.6% of the time.Qualified immunity was raised more often by defendants at summary judgment and was more often granted by courts at that stage. But even when courts granted motions to dismiss and summary judgment motions on qualified immunity grounds, those grants did not always result in the dismissal of the cases—additional claims or defendants regularly remained and continued to expose government officials to the possibility of discovery and trial. Across the five districts in my study, just 3.9% of the cases in which qualified immunity could be raised were dismissed on qualified immunity grounds.

And when one considers all the Section 1983 cases brought against law enforcement defendants—each of which could expose law enforcement officials to whatever burdens are associated with discovery and trial—just 0.6% of cases were dismissed at the motion to dismiss stage and 2.6% were dismissed at summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.

How Qualified Immunity Fails, by Joanna C. Schwartz, Yale Law Journal, 127:2 (2017).

Thus, Qualified Immunity was the reason for dismissal in only 3.2% of the 1,183 lawsuits in the study. The defendants raised the defense in 37.6% of the cases where the defense was available. Out of these, only 13.9% of these were raised at the earliest point available – that is, the motion to dismiss stage – that being the only method of avoiding the burden of participating in the discovery process. Courts granted less than 18% of those motions raised at the motion to dismiss stage, which includes motions granted “in part,” which means that only some claims were dismissed, and that others were allowed to proceed. 

Therefore, the existence of Qualified Immunity is not serving the alleged policy goal of shielding government officials from the burden of participating in the litigation process. Unless, of course, one considers 3.2% to be a substantial shield from litigation. To the contrary, it arguably has increased the negative public perception of a lack of equal justice in the justice system as a whole.

How to strip a police officer of Qualified Immunity

To strip a police officer of qualified immunity in a civil rights lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish that:

1. the officer’s conduct violated a federal statute or constitutional right; and

2. the right was clearly established at the time of the conduct, such that

3. an objectively reasonable officer would have understood that the conduct

violated that right.

Which comes first? Until recently, the United States Court of Appeals required a court to first determine whether or not a constitutional right had been violated and then determine whether an officer was entitled to qualified immunity. See Saucier v. Katz, 121 S.Ct. 2151 (2001). Courts and attorneys were routinely ignoring this mandate and somewhat recently, the United States Supreme Court in Pearson v. Callahan (2009) reverted back to its initial analysis and now courts are free to evaluate these issues in whatever order the court desires. 

The real world application of Qualified Immunity.

1. There generally tends to be a “grace period “between a change in the law, and then moment it becomes “clearly established” for qualified immunity purposes.

2. Qualified Immunity is generally a poor defense to claims of excessive use of force by a police officer. The reason for this is because this often involves highly contested disputes of fact which make a trial likely. For example, a plaintiff alleges an officer kicked him in the groin while he was handcuffed. The officer responds that the plaintiff is lying, and that he did no such thing. This is most certainly going to require a trial to decide the truth of the matter. It doesn’t really involve a legal analysis of whether a police officer would know it would be a civil rights violation to kick a handcuffed detainee in the groin for no good reason. The primary exception to the excessive force rule is police shooting cases where the plaintiff is dead. Such a case usually involves family members of the decased filing suit. As such, the plaintiff himself/herself cannot tell his/her side of the story. With only one side available in many such cases, the court may grant qualified immunity based on the officers’ un-contradicted affidavits or deposition testimony.

3. Qualified Immunity is a very effective defense when dealing with search and seizure issues, which are rapidly developing and changing (due to commonly being involved in criminal litigation, which occurs in much greater volume and frequency). This creates so-called “grey areas” of the law, for which courts tend to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

4. An officer’s mistaken understanding of the law, or a reasonable misapprehension of the propriety of his conduct, can still provide a defense under Qualified Immunity. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 205 (2001) (“The concern of the immunity inquiry is to acknowledge that reasonable mistakes can be made as to the legal constraints on particular police conduct. It is sometimes difficult for an officer to determine how the relevant legal doctrine, here excessive force, will apply to the factual situation the officer confronts. An officer might correctly perceive all of the relevant facts but have a mistaken understanding as to whether a particular amount of force is legal in those circumstances. If the officer’s mistake as to what the law requires is reasonable, however, the officer is entitled to the immunity defense.”).

5. Qualified immunity applies as an effective defense in wrongful arrest cases, where the Court looks at the facts in the record and determines that probable cause exists, or that the officer made a reasonable mistake as to the existence of probable cause.

Therefore, ironically, Qualified Immunity is not much of a bar to a plaintiff seeking to hold a police officer responsible for the use of excessive force, such as in the recent death of George Floyd. Without a doubt, no court in the land would grant Qualified Immunity to the officer involved in Mr. Floyd’s death. There would be, or probably will be, factual issues to be determined at trial. Rather, it mostly is going to apply to those “grey areas” of search and seizure law. Moreover, it’s going to apply usually without regard to the officer’s subjective ignorance, or expertise, regarding the law. It’s an objective, fairly low standard.

For this reason, I agree with the author of the Yale Law Review study, in that rather than calling for the end of Qualified Immunity, it might be best to return to a subjective standard version of Qualified Immunity, where police officers who act in bad faith, as well as those who act in good faith, though objectively unreasonably, can be held accountable. But as for Qualified Immunity itself, whether it exists, or does not exist, it’s not going to apply to any of the officers directly involved in Mr. Floyd’s death. But it will be involved in many other cases, including cases where there certainly was police misconduct, for which the victim will be barred from recovery. That can’t be a good policy, in my opinion.

Fayette County Search Case was Settled

I’ve had several people ask me about an update on the Sizemore case, which was a search and seizure case out of Fayette County, West Virginia, involving a multi-jurisdictional drug task force who were found by a federal judge to have included false allegations in a search warrant application. The federal criminal charges were dropped after the evidence seized during the search was suppressed from evidence. Then the case was brought to me for a civil lawsuit. We filed in in September of 2019. We recently settled the case.

This was the case where the Charleston Gazette newspaper thought it was shocking that we filed a lawsuit over an illegal search where, despite the illegal warrant, drugs actually were found in my client’s house. I believe the headline was, “Officers found his $25k of heroin. He walked free, and now he’s suing police.”

In my December 2019 update, in response to the police officers’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, I reiterated that equal justice under the law should mean that even people found with drugs should be entitled to the equal application of law and posted our response brief, as well as their motion.

In my January 2020 update, I posted a copy of the federal court’s memorandum opinion and order denying the motion to dismiss, and denying the application of qualified immunity, ordering that the case proceed. You’ve been hearing a lot about qualified immunity lately. The order in this case denied qualified immunity to the officers:

As previously explained, Defendant Morris violated Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the next question is whether the violated right was clearly established at the time of the events in question. “[I]t has long been established that when law enforcement acts in reckless disregard of the truth and makes a false statement or material omission that is necessary to a finding of probable cause, the resulting seizure will be determined to be unreasonable.” Gilliam v. Sealey, 932 F.3d 216, 241 (4th Cir. 2019); see Franks, 438 U.S. at 157. 

As the Fourth Circuit has explained, “a reasonable officer cannot believe a warrant is supported by probable cause if the magistrate is misled by statements that the officer knows or should know are false.” Miller, 475 F.3d at 632 (quoting Smith v. Reddy, 101 F.3d 351, 355 (4th Cir.1996)).

Qualified immunity is actually pretty rare in excessive force lawsuits – at least where the plaintiff’s attorney knows what he or she is doing. Ideally, there is a dispute of facts, which requires a trial. But in search in seizure cases, it’s usually less of a factual dispute, and more of a legal dispute. The gist of qualified immunity is that courts give some leeway to police officers, who can’t be expected to automatically know each and every new case that comes out. Some courts expand it, unfortunately, but many don’t.

Here, the court equally applied the Fourth Amendment and justice was served. A police officer should not be allowed to lie in order to obtain a search warrant, even where they believe that the ends justifies the means. Here’s the full order, which was quoted above:

My thoughts on the current protests.

If you really care about police misconduct, and if you want to fix things, are you willing to protest over this man? This is James Dean, who died 14 months ago in a hospital in Huntington, West Virginia, after incurring head trauma while handcuffed in the custody of the Kenova, Police Department. After waiting 14 months, the state medical examiner’s office still hasn’t issued a report regarding his cause of death. Why? So they can protect the police, I would presume. The brain surgeon who performed the man’s craniotomy didn’t have any doubt in his mind apparently that the man suffered head trauma causing his brain to bleed.

Petition for Rehearing En Banc Filed Yesterday with the Fourth Circuit in the Orem Search and Seizure Case

Yesterday we filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the Orem case. On May 11, 2020, the Fourth Circuit handed down a panel decision in the Orem v. Gillmore, et al., Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit, arising out of Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Here’s the background post on the initial filing of the lawsuit, in April of 2018. This is the case that made national headlines when a Republican nominee for Sheriff was arrested for allegedly overdosing in his home. He was arrested by a state trooper, who showed up at the scene of the medical emergency, and performed a warrantless search of a bathroom in the house. The trooper’s longtime secretary was the married to one of the candidate’s political opponents. During the arrest booking, a photograph was taken of the client while handcuffed inside a secure area of the state police detachment. It was uploaded to social media as a meme, and quickly went viral. Of course, the state police investigated themselves, and strangely were unable to find the culprit.

The damage was done, as far as the election is concerned. The prosecuting attorney determined that the arrest resulted from an illegal search of the bathroom, and evidently the court agreed. The criminal charges were dismissed. We filed a civil lawsuit in federal court. Unfortunately however, the Court granted the trooper qualified immunity on the search, and claimed that we missed the statute of limitations on the false arrest count. I argued up and down that the judge and the opposing lawyer were confused, and that false arrest has a 2 year SOL – not 1 year, as they claimed. Well, I was right. The Fourth Circuit overturned the ruling on the statute of limitations, holding that I was right about it being 2 years. But then they granted qualified immunity anyways.

Here’s the Petition for Rehearing:

Here’s the opinion, if you want to read it. Unfortunately, the opinion was pretty sparse – granting the defendant police officer qualified immunity, with pretty much no explanation whatsoever. They just said, it was “beyond debate.”

The expansion of qualified immunity to police officers who violate the most central tenant of the Fourth Amendment – a warrantless search of a home – is concerning. Qualified immunity is supposed to apply to the gray areas, where we can’t expect police officers to understand all the nuances and constant changes in case law. But the warrant requirement for searching a man’s home? The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that a police officer cannot be entitled to qualified immunity for the warrantless search of a home. Hopefully we get a rehearing on this and a new opinion, or else we very well may end up there.

Lawsuit being filed against the West Virginia Governor today challenging his COVID-19 executive orders

Being filed today: I’m representing S. Marshall Wilson, of the West Virginia House of Delegates, three other delegates, and one West Virginia Senator, in their challenge to the West Virginia Governor’s COVID-19 executive orders. Here’s the petition being filed. Press conference at the State Capitol, today at 11:00 a.m.

Update: some footage from the press conference at the State Capitol:

Article in Saturday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/coronavirus/lawmakers-file-petition-with-state-supreme-court-over-governors-actions-during-pandemic/article_009e51a9-70da-5bb3-8e48-e4e37f658448.html

Delegate S. Marshall Wilson (right), I-Berkeley, discusses the filing of a petition seeking a writ of mandamus against Gov. Jim Justice Friday outside the state Supreme Court. Attorney John Bryan (left) filed the petition on behalf of five state lawmakers, including Wilson.JOE SEVERINO | Gazette-Mailhttps://www.wvgazettemail.com/coronavirus/lawmakers-file-petition-with-state-supreme-court-over-governors-actions-during-pandemic/article_009e51a9-70da-5bb3-8e48-e4e37f658448.html