Reston, VA

Amid a year where national policing reforms were brought into the spotlight, Fairfax County is reviewing a suite of changes at a local level to improve police accountability.

At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, Chairman Rodney Lusk presented an overview of proposed changes in what was described as possible changes rather than new policies set into stone.

Near term considerations included improved data collection to improve accuracy, with ethnicity and a breakdown of arrest data included in documentation. Data would be released quarterly.

One of the other practices that’s come under fire nationally is the firing and immediate re-hiring of police officers across jurisdictions. One proposed change would crack down on that as part of a statewide push to make decertification easier.

“Consider and discuss implementation of state legislation related to the decertification of law enforcement officers who have been terminated or resigned for misconduct and the request and disclosure of information for prospective law-enforcement hires,” the input matrix said.

While many of the items items being considered focused on more transparency and restrictions on police, another item being considered was a review of how to boost morale in the police department, which Lusk said was at an all time low.

The committee also considered some mid-term options, like reviewing regulations around school resource officers and a review of Fairfax County Police Department use of force policies. with more data about the racial distribution of arrests, another mid-term goal was reviewing racial disparities in use of force and arrests.

“These are public suggestions… not approved by the board,” said Fairfax County Board chair Jeff McKay. “This is a parking lot of ideas that have come through your office and now must be adjudicated by this board based on data and conversations… Some of these will go off to other committees.”

Image via Fairfax County

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The Virginia State Bar president-elect for 2020-2021 is Jay B. Myerson of Reston.

Myerson is set to serve as president in 2021-2022, and is succeeding Brian L. Buvia, the current president of the VSB. Myerson will assume the president-elect position on July 1 and is the first attorney whose law firm is based in Reston to serve in this statewide capacity, according to a statement from The Myerson Law Group. 

The VSB is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and the president regulates and supports more than 50,000 Virginia lawyers, according to the statement. 

“It will be a real privilege to work with the many talented attorneys across the Commonwealth,” said Myerson. 

Myerson graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown University Law Center. From there, he founded The Myerson Law Group, P.C. where he supervises a six-attorney domestic, criminal and civil litigation practice, said the statement. The practice is located in Fairfax County.

Myerson is a five-time recipient of the Fairfax Bar Association’s President’s Award and was the 2018 recipient of the Local Bar Leader Award. He was past president of the FBA, where he led efforts for judicial funding, according to the statement.

The attorney was also elected to the state Bar Council in 2014, just completing his second term. He has also served for the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates.

Myerson and his family are longtime Reston residents. 

“I’m especially looking forward to working with the wonderful VSB staff, the Chief Justice and other justices on Virginia’s Supreme Court,” said Myerson.

Photo courtesy of The Myerson Law Group, P.C.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Amy Gaiennie of Gaiennie Law Office

The inclusion of high school students in an existing federal safety program is the latest proposal introduced by U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

The proposed legislation adds to the existing Safe Routes to School Program, which promotes students walking and bicycling to school, and provides safety education, incentives for active school commutes and improved infrastructure.

Unfortunately, commute-related injuries occur daily across the nation. For example, over the past year in Nevada’s Washoe County School District alone, over 20 students have been injured by cars during their commute to school.

Ensuring student safety amongst the nation’s elementary and middle schools — no matter the type of commute — is at the heart of the Safe Routes to School Program. The proposed legislation seeks to offer high school students the same umbrella of protection and benefits offered by the Safe Routes to School Program to elementary, middle, and high schools alike.

As research shows — and common-sense dictates — walking and bicycling to and from school offer students health benefits. Furthermore, offering the added protection of federally-funded safety education and infrastructure improvements to high schools expands not only those health benefits of an active commute, but also a safer commute as well. If approved, high schools would be eligible for funding from the Department of Transportation for pedestrian and bicycle safety projects.

The proposed legislation — the result of bipartisan efforts in the U.S. Senate — takes great strides in promoting safer commutes for all students. While the proposed legislation is pending regarding the inclusion of high schools in the program, safety precautions can be put in place by each individual on the road — adult or child.

For example, it is helpful for drivers who know they will be on the roads during school commute hours to allow a little more time for their own commute. Students walking to school can help practice safety by using sidewalks when available, and if no sidewalks are available, using the edge of the road while facing traffic.

Similarly, using crosswalks, where available, and always being cognizant to stop and look both ways before crossing. Bicyclists can help practice safety by wearing proper safety gear, including helmets, adhering to traffic signs and signals, and cycling in the same direction as the flow of traffic, but utilizing bike lanes where available.

For all, taking the time to be alert and pay attention may help curb the number of incidents during school commute hours — and also encourage growth in a more active commute for school students.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Davis Haines of Haines Law, P.C.

To questions of “are we there yet?” regarding highway safety, Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), says no.

Tens of thousands of people are killed in car accidents each year. That amounts to approximately 100 deaths each day, and nearly 7,500 personal injuries. AHAS and Chase have made it their mission to put an end to these injuries and fatalities by pressing state legislatures to take action and improve their highway safety laws.

AHAS recently released its 2020 Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws which includes within it Safe Roads Report Cards that grade each state, as well as the District of Columbia (D.C.), on the quality of their automobile safety laws. The timing of the release intentionally coincides with the start of many state legislative sessions. It is meant to prompt a discussion of what each respective jurisdiction can do to improve its road safety laws.

The roadmap says that in 2019, 10 jurisdictions (9 states and D.C.) passed 12 laws into effect, improving road safety in the areas of texting and cell phone bans, child seating safety requirements, and drunk driving regulations. Nevertheless, the roadmap argues, much remains to be done.

The report cards issued grades according to color: green (good), yellow (caution), and red (danger). Just eight jurisdictions (7 states and D.C.) received a green grade, while 31 were labeled as yellow. AHAS determined that the remaining 12 were in a red predicament, wherein they had enacted few meaningful road safety laws.

To give some perspective, the state of Rhode Island has enacted 13 AHAS “approved” laws, the most of any state in the nation. South Dakota, on the other hand, has enacted just two laws, the least of any jurisdiction.

These personal injuries, deemed preventable, continue to happen on a large scale. Roughly half of all car accident fatalities occur because a motorist is improperly buckled into their seat. However, according to AHAS, 31 states lack sufficient laws to address this problem.

AHAS is especially worried about inadequate legislation concerning placing children in size and age-appropriate car seats, the issuance of graduated drivers licenses for teen and novice drivers, as well as an across-the-board ban on texting while driving.

The roadmap acknowledges that vehicle technology can play a role in this, and that some measures – such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detectors, and lane departure warnings – can be effective at minimizing the frequency of car crashes. However, AHAS cautions that these innovations are often priced out of reach for many consumers.

Furthermore, they state that they can, at times, be confusing, thus creating their own dangers for motorists across the country.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Tim Miley of The Miley Legal Group

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been under review by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. While issuing recalls involving products of Britax and Fisher-Price, the way in which these recalls played out came under question and, as a result, into the hands of the Senate Review Committee.

What is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission? Formed under the Consumer Product Safety Act, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is a regulatory agency that has the purposes of:

  • Protecting the public against unreasonable risk of injury related to consumer products
  • Assisting consumers in evaluating the safety of products
  • Developing uniform safety standards for products and minimizing conflicts between State and local regulations
  • Promoting research and investigation into the causes of product-related injuries, illnesses and deaths, and the prevention of harm due to consumer products

The Safety Commission administers five acts, which include the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, the Flammable Fabrics Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and the Refrigerator Safety Act. The Commission offers the public a hotline for recall inquiries and also makes product recall information available to the public through its website.

The current review of the Safety Commission’s conduct pertains primarily to its administering of the Consumer Product Safety Act. In its report, the Senate Review Committee expressed concern that the Safety Commission handled recalls to allow companies to benefit from future sales. By offering relief in the form of discount coupons, for example, consumers purchased new products and the companies reaped additional revenue as a result of the recall.

Additionally, the timeliness of recalls by the Safety Commission came into question by the Review Committee. One such instance under review involved the Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play infant sleeper, a product that was related to more than 30 infant deaths. The infant sleeper was not recalled when the number of deaths reported at ten; instead, a warning was issued, and a recall was not released until the reported deaths reached over 30 and at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ urging for an immediate recall.

The recent scrutiny under which the Safety Commission has fallen is a reason for consumers to pause and address what products have been subject to recall and what remedies are available.

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By Personal Injury Attorney William Colarulo of Grungo Colarulo

Historically, members of the military were unable to file a medical malpractice claim against the federal government when they were a victim of negligence. This is largely due to the fact that nearly all governments have immunity from civil lawsuits. More specifically, it has to do with the Feres Doctrine.

The Feres Doctrine is named after three different cases of military medical malpractice heard by the Supreme Court in 1950. Once the case was decided on, it was determined that any service member was barred from filing a medical malpractice claim against the federal government.

Now, however, a new proposal to the 2020 defense budget bill might allow service members or their families to take action by filing a claim with the Secretary of Defense. If accepted, these claims would allow service members to collect compensation for their injuries.

In mid-December, the House of Representatives approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Under this bill, military members can file a claim for review if they believe they were the victims of medical malpractice. Of course, like any civil action, it does not necessarily mean that they will be successful in their claim. Currently, only medical malpractice claims are included in the National Defense Authorization Act, although that does cover not only medical treatment, but also dental treatment and other related healthcare.

The National Defense Authorization Act also states that an attorney’s fees cannot exceed 20 percent of any compensation awarded. The Department of Defense is also not liable for those fees, meaning that anyone filing a claim would be responsible for paying the associated expenses.

This National Defense Authorization Act might prove to be helpful for service members that are victims of medical malpractice in the future, as well as for any member that was a victim after January, 2017.

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By Criminal Defense Attorney Floyd Oliver of Floyd Oliver Attorney at Law

In the world of criminal law, words matter. Cases are often lost and won based on the prevailing interpretation of the relevant statutory and regulatory language. This is also the case for federal firearm enforcement.

For decades, federal prosecutors and regulators at the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have relied on what some call an archaic definition of the word “gun.” This agency defines the frame (or receiver) of a firearm as a gun.

However, with AR-15-style weapons, a frame is made of two separate parts: the upper and lower receivers. Neither of these parts could fire a bullet on their own, but ATF and federal prosecutors have treated these individual parts as guns in order to regulate who can obtain them.

A significant part of ATF’s mission is to prevent certain people — those legally prohibited from possessing a gun — from being able to legally obtain the separate parts they could use to make a firearm. However, the discrepancy between the law as it is written and the construction of AR-15-style weapons is starting to cause panic within the federal gun enforcement community.

Defense attorneys are making a “plain reading of the law” argument in efforts to invalidate assertions that their clients are guilty of having possessed or sought to possess a gun. They argue that one part of the receiver does not make a gun and should therefore not be treated as a firearm.

The courts are starting to listen. Since 2016, at least five defendants have seen their cases or charges dropped or have avoided prison. Recently, an Ohio federal judge sided with the defense’s argument that a plain reading of the law necessitated a dismissal and said that the legal definition of the word “gun” is something ATF has a duty to fix.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Mac Hester of Mac Hester Law

A recent proposal by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) calls for significant changes to truck driving rules, sparking a debate on whether the changes will benefit all drivers and the safety of the roadways.

According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, they believe changes need to be made as the number of truck-involved incidents has increased alongside an increase in the regulations on truck drivers.

Current rules on Hours of Service restrict the amount of time truck drivers spend on the roads, the frequency and length of their breaks, and their sleeping hours while on duty. For example, truck drivers cannot drive for more than eight hours without taking a break. Long-haul drivers cannot drive more than 11 hours in 14 hours of driving time, which must be followed by a ten-hour consecutive off-duty break.

The proposed changes address the consecutive ten-hour sleeping requirement. As opposed to ten consecutive hours, the proposal allows the driver to split up the ten-hour consecutive sleeping requirement into two segments, a seven-hour consecutive segment in the sleeping berth, followed by a period of at least two hours in the sleeping berth or off-duty.

Additionally, the proposed changes speak to challenges that truck drivers face in situations such as lengthy traffic jams, which can account for a considerable amount of on-duty driving time.

For example, with the proposed changes, a truck driver who finds themselves in a traffic jam would be able to take the requisite 30-minute break within an eight-hour driving period, by taking the break while in an on-duty, non-driving status — as opposed to an off-duty status.

A recent North Carolina Department of Transportation report showed an increase of 900 crashes involving tractor-trailers from the year 2017 to 2018. Reports such as these shed light on a need to revisit rules and regulations, as well as other factors affecting safety on the roads.

Where cell phone usage by all drivers is reported as a threat to driver safety in general, officials of NCDOT predict that truck driver fatigue is an underreported factor in truck-related accidents.

Whether the proposed changes will help address the truck driving industry’s concern for safe and efficient transportation, as well as lessen the number of truck-involved incidents, is yet to be seen as the proposed changes are mere proposals at this point.

For the proposed changes to go into effect it will not require the approval of Congress, but, instead only the approval of the FMSCA and the Office of Management and Budget.

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By Personal Injury Attorney Gary Christmas of Christmas Injury Lawyers

Each year, approximately 6,000 pedestrian lives are lost to traffic accidents.

These deaths account for 16% of all traffic deaths, and the majority of these accidents happen after dark when visibility is low. Sadly, the number of pedestrian deaths is on the rise.

As a result, automakers have attempted to combat the issue of pedestrian-related crashes by introducing new safety technology, such as an automatic emergency braking system that engages when a sensor detects a pedestrian in front of the car. In theory, this emergency braking system could be extremely helpful for keeping people safe on the road.

Drivers are ultimately responsible for the safe driving of their vehicles, no matter how advanced their safety technology is. Although these safety systems have the potential to significantly reduce vehicle crashes when properly functioning, this technology is only meant to enhance the driver’s awareness, not to take the driver’s place.

Even if a vehicle is equipped with advanced technology to assist a driver in navigating in a safer manner, this technology can never be relied on to take the place of the driver, and ultimately, a driver who causes a traffic accident despite the use of this safety technology is liable and responsible for the damage they have caused.

Unfortunately, according to tests done by AAA, this technology has a long way to go before it is effective. AAA challenged this technology in simulated real-world scenarios and found that this technology was largely ineffective. These tests revealed that the sensors had the highest success rate while the vehicle was traveling slowly at 20 miles per hour during daylight, avoiding collision approximately 40% of the time.

However, when the vehicle speed was increased to 30 miles per hour in the same scenario, the majority of detection systems failed to detect the pedestrian and was unable to avoid the collision.

Additionally, the safety system failed to detect pedestrians during nighttime simulations, illustrating that this technology requires further testing and work to become more effective before it can be relied on to aid drivers in identifying and avoiding pedestrians.

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By Berry Law Firm

Inmates that once had hope for a second chance are now living in fear that they will be sent back to jail.

This is due to the fact that several lawyers at the Department of Justice are trying to overturn the First Step Act, an act that reforms the federal prison system and seeks to reduce recidivism

The First Step Act allows individuals convicted of selling cocaine to serve reduced sentences. It has already allowed 1,100 individuals out of jail after serving just a portion of the time they were sentenced to. The law was a response to the failure of tough-on-crime policies that not only do not work, but also disproportionately affect African Americans. Now, the Justice Department wants to put at least some individuals that have been freed back in prison.

This is not only an injustice, but it is downright cruel. After both sides of the aisle came together to get this Act passed, it is difficult to understand why federal prosecutors now want to take it away.

The Justice Department’s reasoning for this is that these individuals accepted a plea deal when they were first being tried. Within those deals, they agreed to plead guilty in exchange for agreeing that they were caught with a smaller amount than what they actually were.

However, those plea deals are already settled. If those accused had not agreed to them at the time, they may have been found not guilty during trial. That is a chance they no longer have as federal prosecutors continue to come after them.

Fortunately, those prosecutors have been largely unsuccessful so far. They have appealed 81 cases and have lost 73 of those. Prosecutors have stated that they intend to appeal 12 more. If they are successful, it will mean sending people back to jail after they were led to believe they were free.

This is something that has never been done before, which is why it is being met with so much resistance from nearly everyone, except those in the Justice Department.

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The threats to our democratic-republican form of government are more numerous than weeks of this column could enumerate. While I will not mention the more obvious ones brought on by the current administration in Washington, I do want to focus on two that have come about in the recent past — one just last week. They impact all levels of government and come about not from the executive branch of government or the dysfunctional Congress but rather from the judicial branch and its highest level, the Supreme Court! While I have always viewed the Supreme Court as a safety backstop that would save our republic from harm by the Congress or the president, in recent years it is the Court that has become one of the real threats to democratic governance.

One of the biggest inhibitors of advancement on progressive issues in Virginia has been the unrestrained ability of the members of the party in power at the time of the decennial census to choose the voters they want to represent for the next decade by gerrymandering district boundaries. For some of us there has been a struggle to put in place a non-partisan method of drawing district lines. With the great organization OneVirginia2021’s efforts there has been real progress towards meeting that goal. A Constitutional amendment passed the last session of the General Assembly that would establish what is described as a non-partisan and transparent process for redistricting. It must pass the 2020 session without change in order to be sent to the voters in a referendum before becoming part of the state constitution.

In the meantime lawsuits were successful in federal courts to have the Virginia Congressional and House of Delegates districts redrawn to eliminate discrimination based on race. The Supreme Court refused to review the new House of Delegates districts drawn by a lower federal court on a technicality that the current members bringing the suit did not have standing.

Of great concern, however, is the Supreme Court decision last week saying in effect that federal courts do not have the power to redraw politically gerrymandered district lines. The outcome could be more devastating to a republican form of government as the dominant party would be left free to establish itself in power without a way to challenge it.

The Supreme Court has historically sidestepped cases in the past that would have brought them into resolving partisan redistricting. I am fearful that the Court’s decision will result in rampant gerrymandering of legislative districts creating unparalleled control of legislatures. This unfortunate decision by the Supreme Court may have been exceeded in its partisan implications only by Citizens United that many people feel may have been the Court’s greatest mistake by bringing uncontrolled corporate influence into elections.

As usual the checks, although extremely limited to these kinds of bad decisions, continue to be voting the very best people into elective office.

File photo

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The Herndon Town Council is looking to appoint a new deputy town attorney at a meeting next week.

The position was created during the fiscal year 2020 budget cycle in order to help manage the workload of the town attorney’s office.

“The Town Attorney’s Office is extremely busy, as the town has grown and embarked on projects requiring legal review and consultation,” Anne Curtis, the town’s chief communications officer, told Reston Now. “This new position reflects a need for additional inhouse legal resources.”

At a Tuesday, July 9 meeting, the council will consider a resolution to appoint Lauri Sigler to fill the new position.

The position is effective July 22 to “serve at the direction and under the supervision of the Town Attorney,” according to the resolution. The salary range is between $85,000 and $115,000.

The current town attorney is Lesa Yeatts, who was hired in 2015 to replace Richard Kaufman, the town’s legal attorney of more than 20 years.

Photo via Town of Herndon

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If you are single and have no kids, you may think spending money on an estate plan can wait. But if you own anything of value such as a home, you may want to rethink your decision.

Imagine that you live in Reston and your parents live in California. The unthinkable happens to you and your grieving parents have to hire an attorney in Virginia to probate your intestate estate because you died without a will.

No one intentionally leaves their parents in this situation, but it happens all the time.

There are other benefits to making a will. Perhaps you have potential heirs that are entitled to receive your property if you die intestate and these potential heirs would squander any inheritance of your property.

Talking to an attorney will help identify and address how to effectively disinherit someone.

For example, it’s better to almost disinherit a person and incentivize them not to protest. For instance, if you have an estate of half a million dollars, you could leave a troublesome sibling $1,000 and combine that with a no-contest clause saying that anyone who challenges the will loses their inheritance.

Certainly, you have people in your life that you care about or maybe even a dog. How do you want them to be provided for?

Care enough to leave clear and legally rock-solid language about your wishes. If you do not leave clear instructions, your loved ones will have to navigate the complexities of the probate process while trying to grieve your loss. Think of making a will as an act of love to make life easier for those you leave behind.

Even if you are single and don’t have children, you need an estate plan. Contact us or call me at 703-712-8000 to set up a consultation and take the necessary steps to protect your assets and make provisions for the people (and things) that are important to you.

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There are many reasons to make sure you have an estate plan after remarriage. In this brief space I will address a few.

We are all familiar with the sitcom Modern Family, and many of us live in a “modern” family.  That is because 3 out of 4 people who divorce eventually remarry.

According to data published by the Pew Research Center, 6 in 10 women in remarriages are living in what the Census Bureau calls a “blended family.”

However, we have come a long way since the Brady Bunch. Today’s modern family may have step children and step parents, but they may also include half siblings and adopted siblings.

Blended families are faced with unique challenges such as co-parenting with another family and finding balance for children who live between two homes. Planning your estate with a blended family also presents unique challenges, like how to provide for your spouse without accidentally disinheriting your biological children.

Let’s assume: 1) your spouse has children, 2) your spouse does not adopt your children, and 3) your assets consist of retirements funds and a jointly owned home with your spouse. What if according to the laws of your state, in the absence of an estate plan everything passes to your spouse? And what if your spouse dies without an estate plan and all his assets — including the ones he inherits from you — go to his children? Your children get nothing. Clearly, this is not a desirable outcome.

A better alternative is to establish a plan that provides for your children, your spouse and perhaps your spouse’s children.

For example, you may want a trust that allows your spouse to use the assets in your estate for the remainder of his life, then pass those assets to your children. Or you may wish to leave a portion of your assets to your children outright and leave the remainder to your spouse. In this scenario, you might consider who will manage your children’s assets. You might also consider a trust that protects your spouses’ children if your spouse remarries, gets sued or dies.

Other factors to consider include the impact of divorce agreements and marital property laws. If there are minor children, planning for their custody adds further complexity. Suppose you don’t want your ex-spouse to take custody of your children? What are your options?

There are many things to think about when planning an estate after remarriage. Be clear about your intentions and reach out to experts to address your concerns. Contact Global Law PLLC or call 703-712-8000 for more information about to create an estate plan for your blended family.

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A Reston attorney accused of boorish behavior as he drunkenly attended a legal seminar now faces an additional license suspension that will not allow him to practice law in the state well into the next decade.

Wayne Richard Hartke of Hartke Law Offices (11890 Sunrise Valley Drive) did not appear in court for a client’s preliminary hearing on Aug. 6, 2016. When he was called from the courtroom, Hartke said he did not show up because he had not been paid. The judge told him his attendance was required regardless of whether he had been paid, to which Hartke responded that he was physically unable to come in.

Hartke later said that his home had been foreclosed upon in February 2016 and that the sheriff had removed all his active files, which led to him being unaware of the Aug. 6 hearing. However, investigation determined that the case had been entered in May, meaning the sheriff could not have removed the file.

The court found that Hartke had “obstructed and interrupted the administration of justice” and he was sentenced to 10 days in jail. In its ruling last month, the Virginia State Bar suspended his license to practice law for five years because of “a pattern of misconduct by [Hartke] during his many years of practice.”

That suspension won’t go into effect until Oct. 27, 2019, after a three-year suspension that was issued last October is served. The current suspension relates to charges that were brought upon Hartke by a Virginia State Bar panel a few months after alleged drunken and disruptive behavior at a Continuing Legal Education seminar in Tysons on Jan. 8, 2014.

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