Background: Conscientious Virginia judge James Michael Shull, who smoked out a woman who sought to extend a restraining order based on false charges of domestic violence, was just removed from the bench by this Virginia Supreme Court ruling. I have examined the evidence in this case and it is clear to me that Shull is being railroaded. The case provides a sad but excellent example of what can happen to judges who take their responsibilities seriously when adjudicating domestic violence claims.
Both the Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion and the widely-disseminated Associated Press article by Larry O’Dell ignore the most important facts in this case and criticize Shull for the “coin toss” incident. According to the AP:
“According to the court, Shull admitted tossing a coin to determine which parent would have visitation with a child on Christmas. Shull said he was trying to encourage the parents to decide the issue themselves but later acknowledged that he was wrong.”
What happened was this–a mother and father had shared physical custody of their children, and could not agree as to who would have them on Christmas Day. Shull urged them to come to an agreement themselves, but they were unable to. Normally at this point (or actually, long before it) the judge would’ve just decided to give the kids to mom for Christmas, but Shull told both parents that he considered both of them to be good, loving parents and that he did not want to have to choose between them.
When they were unable to decide, he decided to toss a coin to make the decision, sending a clear message that the court was not going to favor one parent over the other. I applaud Shull for this, yet, amazingly, this non-event is one of the major charges against him.
Also, according to Shull, the coin toss was not objected to by either of the two parties, both of whom were represented by attorneys. Shull determined who got the 1st week of Xmas vacation the first year, with vacation to be alternated thereafter.
The AP article by O’Dell also says the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision was “unanimous,” which sounds impressive but is factually questionable. According to Shull:
“It is hard to say the opinion was ‘unanimous.’ The opinion was authored by Justice Keenan, but no one else signed on to it. It does not have any dissents, but in cases of this type, they sometimes do opinions in this manner to mask their differences because it’s more politic.”