Federal Public Defenders On The Way?Maggie Walker Movie Could Come to a Theater Near YouFar Out! Late-Night Diner Beams Into CarytownKuba Kuba Struggles with Good Neighbor PolicyMuseum Billboards Aren't Works of ArtFederal Public Defenders On The Way? Given the crush of Project Exile cases added to the federal court docket in recent years, Richmond may soon see the addition of a federal public defender's office. "I've heard from a couple judges it's coming but I have no idea what their time frame will be," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Comey, who heads the Richmond office of federal prosecutors. The new public defenders office would serve clients charged in federal courts in Richmond, Norfolk and Alexandria. The primary reason behind it, Comey says, is money. Currently, judges appoint private defense attorneys to represent defendants who cannot afford counsel, and the court pays those attorneys an hourly fee. With the addition of Project Exile, the federal initiative aimed at illegal handgun possession, there are more court-appointed lawyers than ever. In fact, the criminal caseload in the U.S. District Court in Richmond has nearly tripled in the last few years, growing from 135 felony cases in 1996 to 404 felonies last year. Exile charges make up the majority of the new cases and most Exile defendants need appointed lawyers, Comey says. The federal judges who will institute the public defenders office didn't return calls for comment. As for Comey and the prosecutors in his office, he says, "either way it's fine with us. We feel we've got a really good defense bar and a public defender would be fine, too." The only people who may not like the new office probably will be local defense lawyers who work as public defenders in the court. "With Exile, it's made a lot of money for the defense bar, and this would sort of cut that off," Comey says. Richard Foster Maggie Walker Movie Could Come to a Theater Near You Alfre Woodard ... Angela Bassett ... Queen Latifah ... or even Oprah Winfrey. If local filmmaker Bill Sydnor plays his cards right perhaps one of these big-screen magnates will play the lead in his upcoming movie based loosely on the life of Richmonder Maggie L. Walker. But if Sydnor has a favorite star in mind, he's keeping mum until the deal is done. "The kind of role we're offering as Maggie Walker is a role that has never been offered a black actress," Sydnor says assuredly. Sydnor, 53, is best known for his 1998 documentary "'Our Inspiration': The Story of Maggie Lena Walker," one of only a few projects to be fed nationally to PBS stations from Central Virginia's Public TV. In less than one year it has won awards in five film festivals. Sydnor hopes to have the fictionalized drama of Walker's life finished by the beginning of next year. Sydnor is looking for financial backing from investors in New York, St. Louis and Hollywood. "I'm eager to show you can put a production together from here," says Sydnor. "The one trick you can't do is the money. There is no bank in Richmond that's going to lend you money for a film." Brandon Walters Far Out! Late-Night Diner Beams Into Carytown A short time from now, you'll be able to get your sugary milkshakes and fat-laden hamburgers in a galaxy not so far, far away. It's called Galaxy Diner, and it's the brainchild of Carytown merchants Mark Burkette and Raul Cantu. Cantu currently owns Nacho Mama's and Nacho Mama's Express, and Burkette is part owner of Mongrel in Carytown. The two plan to open Galaxy Diner at 3109 W. Cary St., formerly Christie's Café and Bakery. With cheap eats and late hours (open till midnight weekdays, 24 hours on the weekends), Cantu and Burkette think their new venture will fill a niche in Carytown, the bustling shopping area that usually empties at night. Burkette isn't worried about lacking customers when the sun goes down. He says Carytown needs a fun, casual place where people can grab a bite after the stores close, and thinks that it's the responsibility of the merchant to fill the dusk-to-dawn void of activity. "Merchants will have to bite the bullet and stay open later" to attract crowds, Burkette says. "Nobody comes down [to Carytown] because nothing is open." Galaxy will lure patrons with a 1950s sci-fi B-movie theme and traditional diner-style food. Burkette hopes his new restaurant attracts customers who reminisce about the good ol' days of Buck Rogers and blue-plate specials, Rockola Bubble jukeboxes and "boomerang 'Jetsons'-style" bars. These things, Burkette says, are "things that will take you back to your childhood." Eating there should also take you back to the gym. Customers at Galaxy will scarf forkfuls of meatloaf, corn dogs and homemade onion rings and potato chips. The bar will mix old-fashioned malts, floats, and an extensive list of martinis and daiquiris. Prepare to unbuckle your pants Galaxy Diner beams into Richmond in late August or early September. Wayne Melton Kuba Kuba Struggles with Good Neighbor Policy Enough already. That's what most residents who live nearby the Fan restaurant say about the complaints of a few disgruntled neighbors. "It's really hurting our business," says Kuba Kuba manager Donny Anderson about the zoning restrictions set by the city. The restaurant is forced to close at 8 p.m. on week nights which means a last seating is taken at 7 p.m. "You can't survive as a restaurant with a two-hour dinner," says Anderson. Currently Kuba Kuba seeks four zoning amendments that could help secure its success: adding two inside tables for a total of seven; hiring a wait staff for tableside service; adding a non-lighted sign above the restaurant's awning; and extending its hours by one hour during the week and an hour and a half on weekends. The small Cuban eatery and market at Lombardy and Park circulated a petition drafted by residents who say Kuba Kuba is a good neighbor in an urban environment. "We might not be so lucky with the next business," it claims. More than 850 people so far have signed the petition which owner Manny Mendez hopes to show the city's planning and zoning commissions in the next few weeks. However, a small handful of Fan residents don't want Mendez's requests to be granted. When reached by phone, one of the opposed, Betsy Seaman, quickly declined comment. Dave Johannas, an architect and Fan resident, supports Kuba Kuba and was present at a July 29 public meeting in nearby Lombardy Park. Of the 44 people present, Johannas says 40 were in favor of Kuba Kuba's zoning amendments. He says he understands the concern over parking, noise and delivery trucks. "But by having the place open a little later, you would have activity," says Johannas. "For so many of us, what we want is a walking city." B.W. Museum Billboards Aren't Works of Art Scenic Virginia would like Richmond's museums to stop treating the outdoors like a gallery. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Historical Society and the Science Museum of Virginia are all using billboards to advertise their exhibits and members of the natural-preservation group want them to cease. "I think it's very unfortunate they have chosen this mode of advertising when there are other methods available that don't degrade the scenery," says Hylah H. Boyd, president of Scenic Virginia. "Billboards take away from an area's natural assets. It obstructs the view of the unique characteristics of a given area." The nonprofit Scenic Virginia was founded last year after the Garden Club of Virginia lost a battle in the General Assembly against billboard owners, who won the right to trim or in some cases cut down publicly owned trees that block billboards. The group has sent letters to the museums protesting the advertisements, and some board members of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts spoke out at a meeting, arguing that billboards are a poor choice of advertising for an institution founded on aesthetics. "It came as a surprise that cultural institutions would use it," says Mary Tyler McClenahan, a member of Scenic Virginia and the board of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Her late husband, Leslie Cheek Jr., was the museum's director for two decades. The art museum currently has two billboards advertising its "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" exhibit on Interstate 64. McClenahan says museum administrators politely agreed not to add any additional billboards. Michael Smith, associate director of communications and marketing for the fine arts museum, says he has not received any orders yet to limit billboard advertising. He calls it a "critical part" of the museum's advertising campaign and says the highway billboards reach millions of vacationers and commuters. R.F.