Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cameras in the Virginia Courtrooms

Last week, cameras were allowed in a Fairfax County Courtroom for the first time in the history of Fairfax County for the trial of Commonwealth v. Blanco involving the murder of Vanessa Pham.   

Today, Peggy Fox with WUSA posted an interview with one of my favorite Fairfax County Circuit Court Judges Jane Marum Roush regarding the experience.  Here's the story.

Cameras in Virginia courtrooms are not something most of us in the legal profession are used to seeing.  Many worry it will negatively affect how justice is rendered.   

Some of my colleagues have told me that cameras can affect whether witnesses are willing to come to court or even testify. 
I'm normally all for sunshine and courtrooms are opening proceedings, on the record, with or without cameras. 

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weekly Column: Cleaning Up Virginia’s Ethics and Disclosure Laws

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice and Patch in the week of August 12, 2013.
Cleaning Up Virginia’s Ethics and Disclosure Laws
Media reports of Governor Bob McDonnell accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of “gifts” and loans have provoked discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of Virginia’s ethics laws. Some have called for a special session of the state legislature.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is requesting a special session after he failed to report his only stock holding – Star Scientific – and $18,000 in gifts from Star Scientific head Jonnie Williams, including a lake house vacation  and a catered Thanksgiving dinner. Another state delegate has echoed that call after his undisclosed trip to Taiwan was reported by the media.
We will be back in session in four months. While a special session to consider the Governor’s impeachment should be on the table, a special session four months before regular session focused on a series of interrelated complex new laws to be considered by a lame duck governor distracted by a federal criminal ethics investigation would not be productive. The General Assembly can thoroughly debate and decide appropriate ethics reforms in the normal 60-day session starting in January when the process can be more deliberative and the public can be involved more easily.

Here is what should be on the table for 2014:

Friday, August 9, 2013

44th District Demographic Dot Map

44th District Demographic Dot Map
The Stat Chat Blog by Weldon-Cooper Center at UVA continues to be one of my favorite blogs because they are doing really incredible things to visualize math.

Their latest creation is map which puts a dot for each person on a map colored by their race. I've zoomeded it in for the 44th District and thrown some rough boundaries over it for kicks.

It clearly highlights the differences in housing patterns in the 44th District. 

If you want to play with the entire country or Northern Virginia, you can access it here.

Weldon-Cooper Center Racial Dot Map

Monday, August 5, 2013

To Give and To Receive

There's been a lot of talk in Virginia lately about gifts with a lot of political-types saying that these gifts don't affect their judgment. That doesn't ring true for most ordinary people. Here's why.

One study found that when a waiter left candy with the check, the amount of the tip went up on average. When the waiter left the candy and told the patron that I threw some candy in there for you, it went even further up. Likewise, many nonprofits include address labels, calendars, or other items with their fundraising appeals. Responses go up when you give a gift.

There has been significant research into how gift stratgies are hard wired into our human brain reward pathways. Some researchers see human responses to gift giving and receiving as part of successful survival strategies that out-competed others through evolution. On an abstract level this is referred to as the norm of Reciprocity. Take this from Wikipedia: