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Rival Attorney Sues 4th Circuit Nominee


One of the attorneys on Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's publicly paid private legal team, E. Duncan Getchell Jr. of McGuireWoods, is being sued for defamation by another Richmond lawyer. It's all part of a grander legal drama co-starring U.S. senators and the president of the United States.

Chris Spencer, a partner at the local firm O'Hagan Spencer, charges in a court filing dated Nov. 14 that Getchell smeared him in an attempt to safeguard his own controversial nomination for a federal judgeship.

Spencer had defended Wintergreen ski resort in an $8 million personal-injury suit and lost. Wintergreen then hired Getchell to appeal the case, but the appeal was thrown out when a transcript was filed late.

The defamation suit alleges that Getchell conspired to unfairly blame Spencer for the failed appeal. Getchell's law firm told news media and the White House communications office that it was Spencer who was responsible for filing the transcript before the deadline expired. Neither Spencer nor Getchell responded to Style's requests for comment by press time.

Some background: In 2006, Virginia's Senators John Warner and George Allen nominated Getchell to fill a vacancy on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House didn't seal the deal before the Senate session ended, however, and Allen lost his seat in the intervening election to Jim Webb.

Sens. Warner and Webb resubmitted a list of nominees for Bush to consider in 2007. Getchell's name wasn't among them, which Warner has said is a result of the new Democratic majority in the Senate. Nevertheless, Bush named him as his choice for the 4th Circuit in September. Warner and Webb voiced their displeasure, and Getchell's nomination seems unlikely -- the nominees must be confirmed by the Senate — without their support.

That Bush stuck with Getchell even after his name had been dropped from the list added to the controversy. There's been an even split between Democratic and Republican judges in the 4th Circuit, but one-third of the judgeships are vacant. Getchell, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, would realign the political mixture on the bench.

In the midst of the nomination dust-up, The Virginian Pilot began looking into the suit and asking if it would have any impact on the nomination. Spencer alleges that statements made by Getchell's firm, McGuireWoods, to news media, along with information about the suit forwarded to the White House, were intentionally misleading and aimed at clearing Getchell's name by muddying Spencer's.

Spencer seeks $7.5 million in damages. S

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