The website of Louisa County attorney Charles Purcell (left) boasts of a "strategic alliance" with Sharon Love's attorney Irv Cantor.
Many contend that only Huguely, shown here in his 2010 booking photo, should bear the blame.
If Sharon Love's first lawsuit had people scratching their heads and wondering if it was more symbolism than an actual effort to collect millions of dollars from a young man who will likely spend the next two dozen years behind bars, her second $30 million lawsuit, this one against UVA coaches and the Commonwealth of Virginia, raises no such questions, as the suit's lead attorney is known for a take-no-prisoners approach and plenty of big verdicts.
That attorney, Irvin V. Cantor, is founding partner of the Richmond personal injury law firm Cantor Stoneburner Ford Grana Buckner, and according to his bio on the firm's website, he's successfully litigated or settled nearly 1,800 cases in his 33 years of law practice including a $6 million verdict for a former policeman who was improperly intubated following a jet-ski accident and suffered brain damage, and a $5 million verdict for the deaths of two workers killed in an industrial explosion.
"He can handle a big case," says Hook legal analyst David Heilberg, noting that Cantor formerly served as president of the Virginia Trial Lawyer's Association. "You don't get that position if you're not respected."
In fact, while the attorney of record in Sharon Love's first suit against George Huguely is Richmond-based Mahlon "Bud" Funk, Cantor and his firm are also listed on court documents as counsel in that case. And furthermore, Cantor's connections may help explain why the second suit was filed in Louisa County: he has a "strategic alliance" with prominent Louisa personal injury attorney Charles Purcell.
Under the heading "The power of teamwork" on Purcell's firm website, Cantor and Purcell trace their relationship back to UVA Law School, where the two men were "classmates and best friends" in the 1970s. The site lists Cantor as founding partner of Cantor Arkema PC, which became the current firm in 2009.
Heilberg, who has suggested that Louisa juries are known for generous verdicts– particularly for local plaintiffs– says Cantor's connection to Purcell bolsters that theory and posits that if the case makes it to trial in Louisa, Purcell could easily show up in the courtroom, giving the jury a familiar face and, perhaps, added incentive to reward the plaintiff, even if she's an outsider.
"If you're a local in Louisa and want a big verdict, you almost always go to Charlie," says Heilberg.
Even for experienced attorneys, suing the state is a challenge because of the concept of "sovereign immunity"– the legal status that protects government entities, including UVA, from civil action unless gross negligence can be proven.
"If only one thing had happened, maybe it's just negligence," Heilberg says, noting it's probable that Cantor's firm took the case on contingency, a sign Cantor and his team believe it's a strong case.
"The theory," says Heilberg, "is that several things happened that the university should have known about and they still took no action." A receptionist at Cantor's firm declined to forward a reporter's call to the attorney, and said the firm would have no comment on the case.
As detailed in Love's May 3 suit against men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, assistant coach Marc Van Arsdale, athletic director Craig Littlepage, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, Huguely's history of substance abuse and violent outbursts was extensive and allegedly known to his coaches.
In addition to a widely reported alleged assault on a sleeping teammate, for which the teammate required medical treatment for a concussion, Huguely also allegedly assaulted two other students– one, the daughter of his high school lacrosse coach, and a UVA men's tennis player whom he saw walking with Love.
Public opinion is divided on the legitimacy of Love's suit against the coaches and the school, with some suggesting that the blame ultimately lies only with George Huguely and others saying if blame is to be spread, it should be assigned evenly– including even Yeardley Love's survivors.
"Looks like the Love family missed that their daughter was in an abusive relationship. Who'll sue them?" comments one poster to the Hook's Facebook page.
For Avery Chenoweth, a Charlottesville writer who attended graduate school at UVA in the late 1980s and early '90s, the case may put a spotlight on a culture of violence at UVA he says he experienced firsthand.
"My experience with UVA was that everyone looked the other way as long as it didn't get too far out of control," says Chenoweth, who recalls being the victim of several unprovoked physical assaults by fellow students.
"I got attacked by frat boys, roughed up by football players," he says. "I remember it being fairly lawless around there."
While acknowledging that winning any civil case against the state may be difficult due to sovereign immunity, Chenoweth points to another legal concept that makes universities responsible, at least to some degree, for their student body.
"The University does have in loco parentis, and that puts them on the hook," says Chenoweth, pointing out that if Coach Dom Starsia had seen Huguely intoxicated the day leading up to Love's death and that a jury could decide his failure to act contributed to her death.
"I think he's going to have to go," says Chenoweth, who remains skeptical that Love's suit– even if successful– will spark significant change at the school.
"They don't want to really look at themselves as anything other than a brand," he says, pointing to Denison University's controversial 1995 decision to evict fraternities from their historic homes in Granville, Ohio. That move enraged alumni even as the school claimed the crackdown on underage drinking encouraged healthier behavior among students.
Chenoweth says he can't imagine UVA taking such radical action to change the culture of violence he believes fraternities, and, in some cases, sports teams, can foster.
"I don't think they do a lot of hard self-examination over there," he says.
University spokesperson Carol Wood refers inquiries about the case to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office, where spokesperson Brian Gottstein also declines comment.
Whether Love will prevail in either of her suits remains to be seen– and likely will remain unknown for years. Huguely is due to be sentenced on August 30, and the civil cases can't begin until the criminal process is complete.