Payoff Pitch? Cameron’s Curveball to the Supreme Court of Virginia

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 @ 2:15AM

In our most recent update, we informed you that Cameron had filed his habeas appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia on November 7, 2016. Now we bring you news of a potentially game-changing and precedent-setting move made by Cameron on December 7, 2016.

This latest maneuver comes in the form of a “Motion to Vacate and Remand on the Grounds that the Circuit Court Violated Rule 3A:24”, which Cameron filed last week. While the name of the motion may lend itself to an appearance of complexity, the motion is actually based on a very simple concept.

When Cameron’s habeas was still pending in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court this summer, the government presented a proposed final order to the court which called for the denial and dismissal of the petition. This proposed final order was actually nothing more than a word-for-word copy of the government’s own motion to dismiss filed earlier in the case, only it had been re-styled as a “final order”. The court signed this order on the same day it received it from the government. As it turns out, the circuit court’s endorsement of this order violated one of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, specifically, Rule 3A:24, which expressly prohibits Virginia habeas courts from issuing final orders that rely upon the incorporation of pleadings filed in the case. In other words, the rule requires the courts to make their own independent decisions in habeas matters; they cannot simply take what one party has said, copy it verbatim, and make it the court’s final order.

But that is exactly what Judge James Lewis of the Virginia Beach Circuit Court did here. So while Cameron’s actual appeal, which has been in since November 7, asks the Supreme Court of Virginia to reverse the Virginia Beach Circuit Court’s judgment on the merits and grant a new trial, this newest motion asks the Supreme Court to simply void the judgment below and send it back to be done properly and in accordance with the Rules of the Supreme Court. Being that Rule 3A:24 clearly imposes a mandatory procedural requirement on the courts, we can hardly imagine how this motion could be denied.

Indeed, things might get interesting from here. For one, it would seem that, since this rule has been on the books, nobody has ever challenged its violation– or so the lack of any published cases dealing with the rule shows. The novel nature of this issue could either cause the court to want to take it up more, or it could be what scares the court away from dealing with it. And even if the motion is denied, the manner in which Cameron has gone about raising this issue should call added attention to the arguments in the appeal itself.

No matter what the outcome, Cameron has certainly put the Supreme Court of Virginia on notice of just how inappropriate it is for courts to decide meritorious habeas petitions in such nonchalant fashion. In citing a United States Supreme Court case, he said in his motion: “there is no higher duty of a court under our constitutional system than the careful processing and adjudication of petitions for a writ of habeas corpus.” Invoking the importance of the writ, Cameron called what Judge Lewis did a “loathsomely lazy practice”. He pointed out how frequently the lower state courts do this today and called it a “scourge that must be stamped out”. Cameron also went on to warn that the continuation of this practice would reduce the public’s confidence in the judicial system and insisted that “the very instrument by which the fairness of criminal trials is checked [i.e., the habeas] cannot itself be permitted to plunge into fundamental unfairness” as a result of habeas matters being decided this way
so often. Cameron excoriated the court for blindly deferring to the government when he had presented a totally unrefuted claim of actual innocence as well, which he says obviously should have increased the need for the court to treat this particular petition seriously.

In addition to the motion to vacate, Cameron has also filed a complaint against Judge Lewis with the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission for violating the Canons of Judicial Conduct, which require judges to protect and uphold the independence and integrity of the judiciary. Certainly, by depending entirely on the government for his final order in this case, Judge Lewis undermined the independence of the courts. In essence, he just let Cameron’s custodian unilaterally and summarily decide the legality of his custody, which effectively defeated the entire purpose of submitting the matter to the court in the first place.

We anxiously look forward to seeing what the Supreme Court will do. There is little telling when we might receive a ruling on the motion, so just hang tight until we receive more news.

Until then, thank you for your continued support and attention.

Motion to Vacate on the Grounds that the Circuit Court Violated Rule 3A:24

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