Monthly Archives: March 2018

Disabled Military Veterans – A Role for the Diversity Conference?

By C. Alexander Hewes, Jr., Esq. *

        There are more than 50 million disabled Americans today; more than 500,000 of these live in Virginia and a growing number of them are men and women who have suffered disabling injuries in the defense of this country.  Many of the latter have returned from combat with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related mental health disorders.

                     A.  Scope of the Problem

         PTSD is a problem that was not readily known to senior military leaders, or accepted as such, until a decade or so ago.  Compounding the problem of getting  early diagnoses, has been the fact that the onset of PTSD symptoms may not be apparent for months, after the soldiers leave service and after the opportunity has passed for developing a record of circumstances that would support the award of benefits.          The problem garnered national attention in 2015, when NPR and Colorado Public Radio revealed that, since 2009, more than 22,000 wounded soldiers, many diagnosed with mental health problems or brain injuries had been dismissed for misconduct.  Many of them had been deprived of some or all of their benefits.  Others experienced delayed diagnoses of PTSD because the symptoms were not readily apparent at the time of their separation from service.

        At the urging of several Members of Congress, the Secretary of the Army directed the Assistant Secretary for Manpower to conduct a review of how the Army had been handling misconduct separations for soldiers with mental health problems or brain injuries.  The review and final Army Report concluded that the Army had been following the letter of the law but that did not solve the problem.

                                                  B.  Call to Action by Congress

        Congress then passed a law requiring commanders to evaluate two issues whenever they are considering dismissing a soldier for misconduct: 1) whether that soldier had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or PTSD and 2) whether the soldier had deployed during the previous two years in a war zone or other contingency operation. Yet the law does not explicitly recognize other mental disorders.

        Dr. Judith Broder, a psychiatrist who organized the Soldiers Project, a network of hundreds of psychotherapists and others who help troops and their families, reportedly said, “It’s mind boggling to exclude people because they don’t have one of those two diagnoses (brain injury or PTSD).  Our experience at the Soldiers Project is that at least half maybe more than that, of the people who call us with mental health problems following their service have anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol problems, all of which directly flow from their experiences in combat.”[1]  Moreover, soldiers who were processed out before the change in the law remained excluded as well.  

        In 2010, the federal standard for evaluating PTSD cases was administratively lowered.[2] The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amended its adjudication regulations governing service connection for PTSD by liberalizing… in some cases… the evidentiary standard for establishing the required in-service stressor.

        The amendment eliminated the requirement for corroborating that the claimed in-service stressor occurred if 1) a stressor claimed by a veteran was related to the veteran’s fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and 2) a VA psychiatrist or psychologist, or a psychiatrist or psychologist with whom VA had contracted, confirmed that the claimed stressor was adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD and 3) that the veteran’s symptoms were related to the claimed stressor, provided 4) that the claimed stressor is consistent with the places, types, and circumstances of the veteran’s service.  The Army reported that only 3,327 of the more than 22,000 soldiers initially identified met the more relaxed standard and the remaining 19,000 soldiers were left without remedy.

                                       C. Changes in the Law Needed                  

        More changes to the law are under consideration.  H.R.918 was introduced by Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) in the House of Representatives on February 7, 2017.  It has 28 co-sponsors.  His Bill, titled the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, directs the VA to furnish to former members of the Armed Forces: (1) an initial mental health assessment; and (2) the mental health care services required to treat the member’s urgent mental health care needs, including risk of suicide or harming others.

        The Bill defines a former member of the Armed Forces is an individual who:

  • served in the active military, naval, or air service, was discharged or released under a condition less than honorable (except a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge), has applied for a character of service determination that has not yet been made, and is not otherwise eligible to enroll in the VA health care system by reason of such discharge or release; or
  • while serving in the Armed Forces, was deployed in a theater of combat operations or an area at a time during which hostilities occurred in that area, participated in or experienced such combat operations or hostilities, or was the victim of a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment.

        The Bill would also authorize the VA to provide such mental health care services at a non-VA facility if: (1) the receipt of mental health care services by an individual in VA facilities would be clinically inadvisable, or (2) VA facilities are not capable of furnishing such mental health care services to that individual economically because of geographical inaccessibility.

        The Bill also would require the VA to seek to enter into a contract with an independent nongovernmental entity to study the effect that combat service has had on suicide rates and serious mental health issues among veterans. The Bill was referred out of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health to the full Committee on Veteran Affairs, by voice vote on April 6, 2017, where it is now pending.

                                           Summary: Role for the Diversity Conference

Virginia is home to some 840,000 veterans.  Nearly half of these citizens served in the Gulf War era, according to the Virginia Department of Veteran Services. Only six other states have a larger veteran population, and only three others expect veteran populations to grow through 2017.

        The Virginia State Bar (”VSB”), over the years,  has had a robust presence in providing assistance to veterans with several programs, including one initiative that recruits lawyer-volunteers in order to provide military veterans and service members with greater access to legal assistance.  

Several hundred VSB attorneys have joined the Veterans Pro Bono Volunteer List.  Many of whom have donated their time and skills in handling cases; often times involving family law issues, for this large segment of Virginia’s population.

        The Veterans Issues Task Force and other VSB groups have also coordinated educational programs; some offering CLE credit.   The disabled military veterans are both a protected class under Federal and state law, and also an important component of the diversity spectrum. Their needs constitute an important component of the national discussion on diversity.

  • Mr. Hewes is a former U.S. Senate staffer, who focused on the problem of poverty in America.  He is also a former Federal prosecutor and served as outside counsel to American University. He is listed in Google Scholars and works closely with other VSB members in assisting the disabled in America’s military community.

[1] Daniel Zwerdling, Senators, Military Specialist Say Army Report on Dismissed Soldier is Troubling, December 1, 2016, aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Morning Edition.

[2] 38 CFR Part 3, RIN 2900-AN32, Department of Veteran Affairs, effective July 12, 2010.

A Call To Service in Infrastructure

 By: Zara Wallace, Esq.*

If you are like me, you went to law school to make a difference in the lives of ordinary individuals. Whether you were inspired by the possibility of representing the indigent, finding justice for the aggrieved or serving your country in the JAG Corp, public service was the impetus that initially drew you to the law. However, like all things, life happens. Professional interests evolve, career paths diverge, and those noble ideals that drew you to the law remain unfulfilled. In their place lingers a longing desire, a feeling that somehow you have forsaken a purer version of yourself, one less tainted by the daily grind of legal practice.

Besides the stress of billable hours, an unfulfilled desire for public service is one of the most common sentiments I hear among lawyers in private practice. Although many attorneys enjoy the intricacies of their practice areas, or are intellectually and professionally fulfilled by their work, there remains a discontentment because they do not feel they are making a difference in their fellow citizens’ lives.

 Fortunately, I do not share this concern as a practitioner of public finance law. As a public finance lawyer, I am immersed in complex transactional matters, but I also see first-hand on a daily basis, the difference my practice can make in the lives of my fellow citizens. Whether it is financing low income housing developments, schools or hospitals, the benefit to the public is ever apparent. Public finance and, in particular, a tax-exempt municipal bonds practice, is unique among business law practice areas precisely because it combines the complexity of a sophisticated subject matter with the altruistic aim of benefiting the public. This has the by-product of creating a wholly rewarding experience for the practitioner. For those who practice in public finance, the concern is less about fulfilling an unmet desire for service, and more about ensuring that the public policies that enable this practice group are retained and expanded. 

    Tax-exempt bonds issued by state and local governments, or an authority created by either of those entities, enable the financing of major infrastructure projects at lower costs than market-rate financing. Infrastructure projects can be financed at lower costs because investors are willing to accept lower interest rates on tax-exempt bonds. This is because the interest earned on these bonds is exempt from gross income in accordance with Section 103 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Whether borrowing directly by issuing bonds to finance their own infrastructure needs, or by issuing bonds and lending the proceeds to non-profit organizations to finance projects that benefit the public (private activity bonds), municipalities are afforded a robust source of private capital to fund public projects. The Code essentially incentivizes private investors to finance needed roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and other important public facilities by giving them a tax break on the interest earned on their bonds. 

Leveraging the tax code to promote the common good is not unique to municipal bonds, as a similar approach is used in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program. The LIHTC program incentivizes private investors to finance the development of affordable housing for low income individuals by providing a tax credit against the federal income tax liability of the investors. The LIHTC program has been highly successful, financing approximately 3 million apartments since its inception, while at the same time creating an estimated 140,000 jobs and generating 1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues annually. 

Although the benefits of these programs to average citizens cannot be understated, it is often difficult for the public to draw the connection. After all, the immediate benefits accrue to private investors, and are only felt by the average citizen many years after. Even more consequential, finance is just not a sexy topic. Evident by the fact that the public works progressivism of the 20th century has been replaced by the social issues activism of today and, it seems, the issues of infrastructure that are crucially important to people of diverse backgrounds in our society are ignored in favor of more fiery topics of debate. For while everyone enjoys driving on new roads, and many appreciate the construction of a new hospital in their district, few people are ever concerned with the financing mechanism that make those projects possible. Public finance practitioners like myself have a challenge highlighting the connection between the tax code and the major infrastructure projects from which we all benefit. This task is especially important as our elected representatives debate the elimination of private activity bonds and advance refunding bonds (a refinancing instrument) as a part of tax reform. These changes fundamentally alter the nature of the tax-exempt bond market by leaving less capital to fund critically important public infrastructure projects. That is precisely why it is so important for a diverse coalition of citizens to appreciate the public benefits of these various tax-exempt programs in much the same way as we appreciate the benefits of “public interest” jobs. 

Undoubtedly, part of the solution will be changing the way in which we think of public service, expanding the definition to include practice areas that benefit the public writ large, rather than on a case-by-case basis. If we reframe the debate surrounding public service, the average citizen will realize the benefits of these programs, ensuring their survival and expansion. Maybe an expanded view of public service might even convince some of our colleagues to reclaim that part of themselves they thought long lost, by transitioning to a public finance practice. 

*The author is a Virginia licensed attorney who practices in the area of public finance and lender representation. He frequently represents banks, governmental entities and 501(c)(3) organizations in a wide variety of financing transactions. He is an associate in the Richmond office of Kaufman & Canoles, P.C.

Grace and Justice: A Law Student Mentee’s Reflection

Alfred Dewayne Brown with the author, Angelica Lao, in November 2017.

By: Angelica Lao

My favorite book growing up was The Count of Monte Cristo, a story about the young, innocent, illiterate sailor Edmond Dantès of low birth who was framed for treason by his jealous rivals and a politician and doomed to lifelong imprisonment in France’s infamous Château d’If. It is often remembered as a story of revenge. But it is a powerful reminder of how fragile the civil justice system can be—how easily it can be manipulated against those who are not privileged.

With special thanks to the Diversity Conference of the Virginia State Bar, I met Alfred Dewayne Brown in November 2017, the 154th person to be exonerated from death row. The chance to meet him is one of the greatest moments of my life. But Dewayne had changed me long before I met him.

In June 2017, I had the honor to attend the 2017 Virginia State Bar Annual Meeting as a law student mentee participant in the Diversity Conference Mentor/Mentee Initiative. By the end of the Alexandria, Virginia attorney Brian Stolarz’s retelling of his legal battle with Texas’s criminal justice system to free Dewayne in the Annual Meeting CLE program “Grace and Justice on Death Row,” I was almost in tears.

Brian Stolarz and Dewayne Brown often speak at events together and tell their story behind Mr. Stolarz’s book “Grace and Justice on Death Row”, the subject of that impactful 2017 Annual Meeting CLE program, co-sponsored by the Diversity Conference.  In November 2017, Mr. Stolarz invited the Diversity Conference law student mentees along with their mentors to a Washington, D.C. restorative justice event at which he and Dewayne were speaking, and that is where I had the unforgettable honor of meeting Alfred Dewayne Browne.

The facts were simple and coldly stacked against Dewayne, a young, illiterate African-American man who grew up poor in Houston, Texas. In 2003, a few of his acquaintances murdered a white police officer and an African-American woman. At the time, Dewayne was at his girlfriend’s house. The true murderers gave alibis that the police accepted as long as they could provide a scapegoat to blame for the murder of a white man. They picked Dewayne.

Before Mr. Stolarz represented Dewayne pro bono, Texas had already failed this innocent man and those he loves. The state’s psychologist bumped up Dewayne’s IQ score to claim Dewayne was eligible for the death penalty. His girlfriend was imprisoned for several months and her children were placed in foster care to coerce damning and completely false testimony from her to convict Dewayne.

After many years of Mr. Stolarz fighting for Dewayne, the landline phone record confirming Dewayne was at his girlfriend’s home finally surfaced from a cardboard box of old case files in a Texas homicide detective’s garage during his spring cleaning. The exonerating call record was even circled, with “Dobey” (Dewayne’s nickname) written next to it. Texas knew all along that Dewayne was innocent, but still committed him to death row. After twelve long years of imprisonment—ten of which was on Texas’s death row—Dewayne finally walked as a free man.

Fourteen years in Château d’If hardened the once optimistic Edmond, but what is most striking about Dewayne’s story is the gracefulness with which he lived his days in prison, as well as his ability to forgive those who wronged him. He truly has no hate in his heart. Dewayne’s ability to still be delighted at twenty-dollars’ worth of vending machine food while knowing he was going to be executed at any point for a crime he didn’t commit is something I will forever be learning.

When we met, I asked Dewayne about his daughter, who was just 2 years old in 2003.

“Oh, she’s doing great,” he said. “She’s in her last year, thinking where she wants to go for college.”

“A senior, already?! You must be so proud!” I said, laughing.

“Yes. We are.”

He spoke about his daughter in the same humble manner as he had all night, but I can tell he was glowing. I felt a wave of anger thinking about how all this joy was almost senselessly taken from this gentle man. But then I realized: what matters to Dewayne is not the decade he lost with his daughter, but rather the decades ahead he can spend with her and his family.

“Where else would you like to go?” I asked. Dewayne had said he likes to go on long drives because he truly feels free on the road with no walls.

“Oh, I don’t know, I’ve driven all over.” He paused. “But I think somewhere like Hawaii would be pretty cool.”

“You should totally go! I’m from Hawaii!”

“No way!”

We exchanged emails and followed each other on Instagram, which was pretty cool.

I wish I could give Dewayne more than just travel tips to my home state for the difference he has made in so many lives, including mine. I am truly grateful to Dewayne, Mr. Stolarz, and the Virginia State Bar for showing me the law as a healing profession. One day, I hope to do the same for others.


Angelica (Wai Sam) Lao.  Ms. Lao is currently a second year law student at Antonin Scalia Law School (at George Mason University) in Arlington, Virginia. Her law school’s dean selected her to attend the Diversity Conference’s third annual Mentor/Mentee Initiative at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Virginia State Bar.  

Hill Tucker Institute Reflection Before Returning This Summer

2017 Hill Tucker Institute attendees with Justice Powell (seated) and Alicia Roberts (front row, right).

By: Latoya Asia

The Oliver Hill/Samuel L. Tucker Pre-Law Institute will once again present its annual week-long program for rising 9th through 12th graders this summer on July 8-13, 2018 at the University of Richmond.  

Each year the Institute seeks to reach future lawyers by exposing them to several elements of the legal system which include: simulated law classes, trial advocacy, mock trials, and interacting with civil and criminal attorneys.  Additionally, students are exposed to college life for an entire week while living in the dorms at the University of Richmond, as well as through college admissions seminars and mock panels. The 2017 program proved to be another success in exposing minority students across the Commonwealth and beyond to the field of law.  

The Institute features a robust week of programming. Students enjoy a guided tour of the Virginia Capitol building and state and federal courthouses in Richmond.  In 2017, the participants engaged in an exclusive question and answer experience with The Honorable Justice Cleo Powell.  The week’s programming also includes an evening networking reception at the University of Richmond Law School Atrium where the students mix and mingle with local practitioners.  Admissions representatives from several Virginia colleges and universities attend the Institute and review the college admissions process and offer helpful advice for the students with the goal of gaining admission to law school. Attorney volunteers come and discuss the array of legal practice areas and the many paths to a successful legal career during a very candid career panel. The students even complete a session on etiquette to prepare for the many business lunches and dinners to come in their future.  The week is topped off with a  closing banquet featuring renowned keynote speakers. Last year’s keynote speaker was  Dr. Dietra Trent, Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia (2017).  

While managing this robust programming schedule, the students prepare for a mock trial competition throughout the week. Daily workshops provided an introduction to basic trial advocacy skills, such as opening and closing statements, as well as direct and cross examination.  Last year, the Hon. Manuel Capsalis and the Hon. Michael Lindner of the Fairfax County General District Court reinforced the students’  knowledge base with a special session on trial advocacy from the perspective of the bench.

Above all, the Institute represents opportunity. Mssrs. Oliver Hill and Samuel Tucker labored to ensure that each participant can not only have a seat at the table, but that they are equipped and emboldened to bring their own chairs. The HTI Class of 2017 were especially fortunate to have the Honorable David Eugene Cheek, Jr. from the Richmond  General District Court share his personal reflections from working alongside Mr. Hill and Mr. Tucker and imparting upon each student the important legacy of these civil rights pioneers.  

We recognize that five days alone is insufficient to completely summarize the entire practice of law. However, we are confident that the Hill Tucker Pre-law Institute lights a fire of curiosity in each student that we think will continue to burn and grow for years to come.

To volunteer at the 2018 Hill Tucker Institute and for questions, contact this year’s HTI directors, Courtney Frazier and Wesley Allen at .  We need volunteers to serve as mock trial judges and participants, instructors, and speakers throughout the week long program.

Latoya Asia is an Assistant General Counsel at ETRADE in Arlington.  She was also Chair of the Diversity Conference in the 2016-2017 bar year.


Carole Capsalis
by Carole Capsalis

The Diversity Conference is proud to announce a new program in the fall.  The University of Richmond School of Law will host our first Annual Forum on Diversity in the Legal Profession on November 9, 2018.  We hope that the forum will 1) have presentations for CLE credit, 2) address issues of implicit/unconscious  bias, and 3) connect employers and minority candidates.  We hope to provide this forum at various locations around the state, partnering with the law schools around the Commonwealth.  Do you lead a bar association or affinity group?  We would love to have your organization’s participation.  Contact Chair-Elect Luis Perez at  for more information.

See us in Virginia Lawyer – The Diversity Conference will be featured in the Virginia Lawyer issue for the month of August.  We still need authors for articles.  Interested? Contact Carole Capsalis now at

Our Annual Meeting Programming will be back this June in Virginia Beach on Friday, June 15, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.  Our Showcase CLE topic will be Rallies, Riots, and Demonstrations:  What does the First Amendment Protect, and What Limits are there for Citizens, Local Governments, and Law Enforcement?  Our panel members will be Claire Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia; Kathleen Dooley, City Attorney for the City of Fredericksburg; and Leslie Kendrick, First Amendment Scholar and Vice Dean of UVA Law School.  This dynamic and interactive program will be moderated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. Our co-sponsors include the Hispanic Bar Association of Virginia; Old Dominion Bar Association; Access to Legal Justice Committee, Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association, the Virginia Equality Bar Association, the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia.

Our Annual Meeting Mentor-Mentee Initiative program will be back for the 2018 Annual Meeting.  The Deans of each Virginia law school have identified two law student mentees from each school to attend the 2018 Annual Meeting.  We will soon be seeking attorney mentor volunteers in April.  Mentors must be present for the entire meeting.  Watch your email for your opportunity to participate in this unforgettable experience.  See our article on the 2017 Annual Meeting Mentor Mentee Initiative in the November 2017 article of Invictus for more information.

The Fore Diversity Golf Tournament will be back at the Annual Meeting, and will once again take place at the Virginia Beach National Golf Course on Thursday, June 14, 2018.  Registration information will come with the Annual Meeting registration packets.  We hope to see you there.

Mark Your Calendars! The Oliver Hill/Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute will take place on July 8-13, 2018, at the University of Richmond.  Applications have been sent to school superintendents throughout the Commonwealth out for prospective students, rising 9th through rising 12th graders.  We have room for at least 30 students.  To volunteer and for questions, contact this year’s HTI directors, Courtney Frazier and Wesley Allen at  We need volunteers to serve as mock trial judges and participants, instructors, and speakers throughout the week long program.

Jazz for Justice is back and expanding to the University of Virginia.  Join us at Old Cabell Hall, Sunday, April 15, 2018.  It will be an amazing concert with proceeds going back to local legal aid.  A special thank you to the music departments at each school for providing the music for each event.

Are you interested in serving on our Board of Governors?  We have two seats open on our Board of Governors.  One of the two openings can be a non-attorney lay member.  Email Carole Capsalis  ( with your nominations.  Nominations are due April 11, 2018.

The 2018 Clarence A. Dunnaville Award is open for nominations.  Nominations are due by April 30, 2018.  The Award criteria and the nomination form is available on the Diversity Conference website at

The Diversity Conference needs you!

Please help us bring the practice of law to all in Virginia. Join one of our committees, spend time mentoring our lawyers of tomorrow, write an article on an interesting topic, or play golf at the Annual Meeting.  The possibilities are as endless as your great ideas.  Fill out this form or contact Chair Carole H. Capsalis.  


WANTED: Bilingual Attorneys

The Diversity Conference is seeking its bilingual members to help with two new language access projects in which it is partnering with the VSB’s Access to Legal Services Committee (“Access Committee”).


A.          The first project is to translate the Access Committee’s guide to Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia into Spanish. The guide can be found at If you are bilingual English/Spanish, and you are willing to volunteer a few hours of your time on this worthy access to justice project, please contact Chair Carole Capsalis at or Access Committee Director Crista Gantz at to get started.  


B.          The second project is to identify bilingual attorneys (in any language) willing to participate in the Virginia Free Legal Answers program to help increase language access on the Virginia Free Legal Answers web site at Virginia Free Legal Answers is a web-based technology provided by the Access Committee in conjunction with the ABA that allows income-qualified members of the public to ask legal questions in a private forum and have the questions answered by volunteer attorneys. Presently, there is no method for non-English speaking clients to interface with bilingual attorneys. If you are bilingual in any language, and are available to participate in, please contact Crista Gantz directly at or (804) 775-0522.