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Friday, February 28, 2014

From Virginia Attorney General To Sleaze Bag

Four months ago, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli thought he was going to be the next governor of Virginia. Now his opponent, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is comfortably nestled in the state’s governor’s mansion — and Cuccinelli is trying to make a buck by offering financial piece of mind to gun owners who might shoot people.

The way it works is this: gun owners who think they may someday use their weapon in “self defense” against another human being pay “as little as $8.33 a month” to Cuccinelli and his three partners. In return, the firm will provide legal defense for no additional charge if the gun owner faces charges after shooting someone in what they claim is self-defense. As a bonus, the firm will also defend clients who claim they were “harassed by law enforcement for lawfully carrying their weapon.”

Although one of Cuccinelli’s partners claims that this is not an insurance plan for people who anticipate facing gun charges in the future, this arrangement resembles an NRA endorsed insurance program for people “involved in an act of self-defense.” That program provides that “Criminal Defense Reimbursement is provided for alleged criminal actions involving self-defense when you are acquitted of such criminal charges or the charges are dropped.”

Cuccinelli’s firm differs in one important way from the NRA endorsed plan, however.

According to Torrey Williams, an attorney with Cuccinelli’s firm has said their business model, “when someone contracts with our legal services, we provide them regardless of outcome.” Thus, if someone like Michael Dunn, who was convicted on three counts of attempted second degree murder for firing at four black teens in an SUV, had been a client of Cuccinelli’s firm, the firm could wind up covering his legal costs despite the guilty verdict.

The one caveat to this rule is something Cuccinelli describes as a “sex, drugs, rock-n-roll clause.” If a client is engaged in illegal activity, such as a drug sale, during the shooting, then the client’s pre-paid fees will not cover the cost of representation. (Notably, neither sex nor rock-n-roll are illegal. Although, if it were up to Cuccinelli, many kinds of sex would be.)

Williams acknowledges that there will be “grey areas” where it is not immediately clear whether their client was engaged in criminal activity at the time of the shooting. In those cases, he said the firm would “make a determination” as to whether they take the case or not, but he emphasized that because of their ethical obligations as attorneys, they would not drop out of a case if it turned out that the client was indeed a criminal so long as the client did not mislead them about their actions. “Once we make a determination, we’re going to stick with it,” said Williams. “Ethically, as attorneys, we can’t leave our client hanging.”

The practical effect of this new legal service, in other words, will be that gun owners will enjoy fairly broad certainty that they will not be hit with massive legal bills if they shoot someone. That’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about when they are deciding whether to squeeze the trigger.