After a tragedy, folks often gather to help out those who have suffered, any way  they can.  At one time, we probably would bake casseroles for each other and plan a church service.  Today, one of the things that I've noticed happening is that folks set up a Go Fund Me account to help cover medical or funeral expenses. 

These accounts often raise funds for the victims and may be helpful.  However,  I am concerned that sometimes they may not be as effective as other ways to help the victim or their families.  In fact, in some situations, the accounts may cause further harm to the family.

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Restorative Justice comes to West Virginia Schools

Last summer I had a call from the superintendent of schools over in Calhoun County, West Virginia.  Superintendent Tim Woodward was frustrated by frequent fights breaking out in the schools and the ineffectiveness of the school discipline system to stop them.  He was familiar with restorative justice, having worked in the schools near Harrisonburg, Virginia.   County prosecutor, Shannon Johnson, referred Mr. Woodward to me and we brainstormed a while on how we might bring restorative justice to Calhoun County.  We found great resources in Kathy Evans, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University who works on RJ in schools, and Jim Nolan, a WVU sociology professor.   The four of us collaborated and created a two-day program in January 2017 at the  Calhoun County administrative office 

This summer, Mr. Woodward accepted an opportunity to move to  Hancock County. Meanwhile, Kelli Whytsell, the assistant superintendent in Calhoun was promoted to superintendent.  In May, Ms. Whytsell and Mr. Woodward and I put our heads together and decided to create an intensive training on restorative justice at Canaan Valley with teachers and administrators from both systems. Jim Nolan again joined us for the training.  We were also  joined by Dashiell Quasebarth, a classroom teacher in the Virginia Beach area who uses restorative justice in his classroom.  

This was a situation when I learned more than the participants!  This  enthusiastic, compassionate and experienced group of professionals quickly caught onto the concept that restorative justice focuses on healing the harm after wrongdoing, rather than punishment for punishment's sake. Many of the Calhoun County participants began implementing some restorative practices in January.  With that experience came some successes.  One of the situations that impressed me most involved two parents who were drawn into a conflict outside of school, but had heard about the restorative circles and asked the school to help them work it out. The Calhoun teachers, administrators, and counselors had experiences with students who experienced a significant transformation in accepting responsibility for their wrongdoing during restorative justice processes.

calhoun restorative justice

Most of the Hancock county professionals were new to restorative justice.  However, as they learned about the principles and values of RJ, they were able to identify ways how what they are currently doing is consistent with restorative practices. Many easily articulated finding ways to expand these ideas  further.  Several teachers were excited to learn about the paradigm shift, moving away from punishment towards an outlook that seeks to find what harm was done and then look for ways to make right the wrongs and meet the needs of the offender, victim and the community.  

Some teachers struggled with the idea of less authoritarian approach in the classroom.  Midway through the training, we did a role play.  Participants assumed roles as teachers, administrators, and students, including one very disruptive student who was having trouble learning.  During the role play, the participant’s  became perspective shifted.  Some said that the time we had together had caused them to reexamine the way that they had done things and they were excited and looked forward to a new approach.  

My favorite moment of the weekend followed some small group discussions we had about various challenges that we are trying to address with restorative justice.  When we reconvened, we formed two circles in a Margolis wheel.  Teachers from Hancock County sat on the inside of the circle, and those from Hancock on the outside of the circle as they shared the ideas that were generated from their small group discussions.  It was rejuvenating for me to see how such experienced and dedicated teachers could be so excited about bringing RJ into their work.

Many of the participants came into the training thinking that the restorative justice in schools would be another program to invest in, roll out and then replace in few years.  However, once they realized that RJ is more a "way of being" that allows the educators to integrate new ways into looking at wrongdoing in the educational environment into their communities.


Last month I had the pleasure of attending two different events related to my work in restorative justice.  This post will address the opportunity to meet with a group in Harrisonburg. 

On the 24th I traveled to Harrisonburg the Zehr Institute of Restorative Justice, part of Eastern Mennonite University to participate in a workshop with Howard Zehr and Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz.  The Institute hosted a group of judges, social workers, and attorneys from Brazil who are working to bring restorative justice into their schools and judicial systems.  During their time at EMU, they had the opportunity to visit the Harrisonburg City Schools and the Harrisonburg Police Department and Prince George’s County where they could see RJ in action.

The participants engaged with area experts during meetings and panel discussions on topics such as Restorative Justice and Community Building with EMU faculty Kathy Evans and Carl Stauffer.

Howard describes the principles of restorative justice to the participants from Brazil. 

Howard describes the principles of restorative justice to the participants from Brazil. 

We joined the participants on their second full day in Virginia, charged with discussing some challenging topics about Restorative Justice and the law.  We started the morning with Howard’s presentation about the principles and values of restorative justice.  Lorraine then addressed two particular issues:  restorative justice in crimes of severe violence and restorative justice and domestic violence. 

This presentation gave me the opportunity to discuss another difficult question ( but one of my favorites):  how can lawyers practice law consistent with restorative justice, with or without a program? This is the subject of my day-to-day work.  I’ve also nearly completed the manuscript of Outcome Blind, my book exploring the topic of bringing restorative justice into the everyday practice of law.  We can look at this complex, yet fundamental, question by starting with the principles and values of restorative justice.  Any activity, whether it be a meeting with a client, a mediation, or a sentencing hearing, may be evaluated against those principles. Each practice can be placed on a continuum, with those that are most restorative at one end (such as a well-run victim-offender dialog) and least restorative at the other (for example, an adversarial trial where the stakeholders are not permitted to participate in the proceeding.)   With this type of inquiry, any lawyer, in any place. can find ways to make any process more inclusive, more collaborative and focused on meeting needs. 

Certainly, a highlight of the morning was a beautiful gift from Jurema Carolina Gomez, representing Tribunal de Justica Restaurative.  The handcrafted circle cloth includes their signature, a design depicting restorative justice in the center.

Certainly, a highlight of the morning was a beautiful gift from Jurema Carolina Gomez, representing Tribunal de Justica Restaurative.  The handcrafted circle cloth includes their signature, a design depicting restorative justice in the center.

The  judges, lawyers, prosecutors, professors and community members participating in the program, brought a great deal of wisdom, experience, and enthusiasm to the discussion.  Judge Leoberto Brancher is a juvenile court judge who has brought restorative justice into his courtroom and launched RJ based programs, through educational opportunities, throughout Brazil.  A retired judge, Isabel Lima, was instrumental in bringing the group to EMU, began using RJ in her courtroom in the 1990’s after being approached at a conference in New Zealand by a participant who asked how she was incorporating restorative justice in the classroom.  She continued to work in RJ and help draft the first statutory provisions about restorative justice in Brazil.  Judge Lima visited EMU last spring, and that trip lead to the development of the fall program that I was able to join.

 I am always excited to be in a room with folks who are as dedicated as I am to working for justice and peace.   This morning was no exception.  I found the morning particularly invigorating, witnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of the guests from Brazil who are working to find ways to bring the healing that comes with restorative justice to their communities.  

Victims Rights when a Loved one Dies of a Drug Overdose

Drug overdoses are epidemic.  Increasingly, prosecutors are responding by filing criminal charges.  Recently, charges were filed in Jefferson County, West Virginia after the death from a drug overdose.  Similar prosecutions and policies in favor or prosecuting drug dealers have been conducted in Virginia

Losing a loved one over a drug overdose is a terrible, tragic loss.  Friends and family members are filled with grief and sadness.  Often, we are also filled with unanswered questions and unmet needs. Those questions can swirl around and torment the survivors.  How could this happen?  Why did it happen?  Couldn’t anyone do some something to prevent it?  How can I help anyone else from suffering from this horrible thing happening to them?

The family may have many unmet needs, including  financial needs such as payment for outstanding medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and counseling expenses for the survivors.   While the financial needs are not paramount, they may lead to further stress, anger and frustration.


What are the “rights” of the survivors that may help meet these needs? 

West Virginia, unlike many states, does not include a constitutional provision providing rights to victims, but in the 1980’s passed a statute granting crime victims certain rights. 

Virginia has passed a constitutional amendment granting crime victims certain rights including a potential reimbursement of expenses through the crime victim’s fund. 

Maryland and DC also have very specific rights granted to crime victims.  The DC provisions are statutory and include a specific DC Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. Maryland law includes a group of statutory rights for victims.  

However, law enforcement officials may not charge distributors with a crime.   Funds for out of pocket expenses may be still be obtained from the crime victim funds.  Most crime victim laws provide the victim’s family an opportunity to both apply for funds even when there is no prosecution or conviction.  Families may also meet with law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys to ask questions and determine why no formal charges were filed.



The following questions are those that many victims have asked me over the last several years.

What types of criminal charges are possible or have been filed?

In some situations, the drug dealer who provides an illegal drug that results in an overdose can be held criminally responsible.  The charges range from the illegal distribution of the drug to voluntary manslaughter to second degree murder.

What if the drugs are prescribed by a physician?

Increasingly, physicians are held responsible by the courts, particularly civilly,  for overprescribing pain medications.  Recently CNN published a story summarizing those legal actions. 

I’ve heard that my county sued the drug companies.  Is that true?

In West Virginia, county councils have initiated  litigation  against both pharmaceutical companies seeking damages for the opioid crisis.  These cases are similar to class actions and seek damages for what the crisis has caused to our communities.

Perhaps all of this court involvement may be confusing.   These statutes and constitutional provisions, as well as the potential fo civil litigation may help you get some answers and try to   Contact my office if you have questions about cases in West Virginia or DC.  We have represented many victims, including the family members of drug overdose victims, in trying to find answers and get their bills paid.  In most situations in West Virginia, you will not be required to pay any attorney fees unless there is a civil recovery.  If you are in Virginia, contact your county Commonwealth Attorney's office to have your questions answered.   If you are in Maryland, you may be eligible for a free lawyer.  



When the insurance company is not being fair

In today's blog post, I am going to address some questions I'm often asked about insurance companies and whether or not they have to treat policy holders or injured folks fairly.  While the laws in West Virginia have changed in the last ten years (cutting back on the protections that injured people have) most of the time insurance companies must treat consumers fairly.

What can be done when an insurance company is treating a claim unfairly?

Anytime someone is potentially benefiting from an insurance policy, whether it be life, accident, home or auto, that person should be treated fairly.  However, that does not always happen. Sometimes insurance companies decide to make it difficult for a claim to be processed or for the injured person to recover.  In that situation, the insurance company is often acting in "bad faith."  Sometimes, that can result in further litigation.  In other circumstances, a complaint can be filed with the insurance commissioner.  It is always best to speak with a lawyer if you believe that you are not being treated fairly.

What is "bad faith"?

When I first started in private practice in the late 1990's, one of kinds of cases that I filed a number of complaints in were cases involving   "insurance bad faith."  While that is not as common today as it was then (for reasons I'll describe in a bit) it is still a cause of action, or the basis for a lawsuit.  When a person is a beneficiary of an insurance policy that he or she purchased to cover an injury, the laws in most jurisdictions require that when that person files a claim with the insurance company, the company has the duty to process the claim in good faith.  This generally requires that the insurance company responds in a timely fashion to communications and that the insurance company makes reasonable offers to settle claims.  In West Virginia, there are very specific things that the insurance company must do that are established by statute and regulation.  You can find those regulations here: . There are also certain duties that are implied in the insurance contract that can be enforced against the insurance company. 

What are some of the things that the regulation require  that insurance companies do?

These are requirements about communication:

  • the insurance company must provide the claimant with penitent policy provisions.
  • the insurance company has to acknowledge the receipt of a claim within fifteen days.
  • the insurance company has to provide the claimant with forms when they want to make a claim.

If a claimant files a claim, the insurance company has further duties.  They include: Every insurer shall promptly conduct and diligently

  • the insurance company has to pursue a thorough, fair and objective investigation
  •  the insurance company may not unreasonably delay resolution by persisting in seeking information not reasonably required
  • if the insurance company is going to require a specific form, in most situations, they must provide the form required within 15 days.
  • in most situations, the insurance company has to deny the claim or make a written offer within 10 days of completing the investigation.
  • the insurance company has to provide specific policy provisions if they are going to deny a claim

With respect to payment on a claim:

  •   the insurance company has a duty to offer reasonable amounts if there is no dispute as to liability or coverage
  • the insurance company has 15 working days to pay on a claim once there is an agreement

So what does this regulation mean to you?

  • If you are injured in an accident, the insurance company has to treat you fairly.  If they do not:
    • If it is YOUR insurance company, you may have a cause of action or a suit against the company and/or a complaint with the insurance commissioner.  In many cases, you may receive additional amounts as damages for their failure to comply with the requirements of treating your fair.
    •  If it is the OTHER person's insurance company, you may file a complaint with the insurance commissioner.
  • If you have other insurance claims, such GAP insurance
  • You may also be able to pursue a bad faith claim against your insurance company.

What does first party bad faith and third party bad faith mean?

If the bad faith action is by your own insurance company, that is first party bad faith.  In that circumstance, West Virginia law supports a claim for you to file suit against the insurance company.  Unfortunately, in 2005, the West Virginia legislature enacted new laws that make it nearly impossible for you to file suit in "third party bad faith" or when another persons’ insurance company is treating you unfairly.  

What should I do?

When you are dealing with an insurance company, set up a file and keep all of your notes, letters and records.  If you have questions about whether or not you are treated fairly, call me, email me or come by the office so that we can discuss your situation and determine what can be done for you to receive what you are due from the insurance company. 


Contempt of court occurs when a court issues an order requiring that a person (or company) do something, and that person disobeys the court order.  The injured or aggrieved party requests that the court find that person in contempt and take action to ensure compliance with the order. In other words, once the court issues a ruling, so long as that ruling is in effect, anyone who is ordered to do something in the order must do it, or the court may find them in contempt.

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The NLADA recently produced a webinar on new child support regulations most of which go into effect this month. The new regulations require that the states make changes in their policies and procedures to improve the processes states use to collect and distribute child support.  They direct a few issues about child support collection that have created problems for some parents. The states are required to make  changes in their guidelines that address incarceration and unemployment among other issues.

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