Charlottesville Breaking News

Packed houses: Scenes from a film festival

It was standing room only at this year's Virginia Film Festival. Now in its 24th year, the November 3-6 homage to cinema is more popular than ever, at least judging by the unprecedented 27 sell-outs on the 84-event program. And it wasn't just the headliners like Oliver Stone and Sissy Spacek. Even foreign films like La Rafle or documentaries like Growing Up Cason pulled in hefty crowds.

Last year, the film festival broke attendance records. This year, with the emphasis on not-yet-released flicks and foreign films, it seems poised to do so again if the crowds lined up to get into theaters are any indication.

Once again, the Hook got caught up in filmatic frenzy. Ten movies later, here's our report of the festival's highs– and lows.

But first, a word from our sponsors: Acura provided cars to ferry about the celebs– and a lengthy commercial that ran before each film.

We laughed, we cried: The new George Clooney movie, The Descendants, by Sideways director Alexander Payne, sold out almost as soon as tickets went on sale. It opens November 16, but we saw it here first.

Don't cry for me Argentina: "What Argentinians do with corpses is fantastic," we learn from Evita: The Documentary's director and recent Charlottesville arrival Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Nearly 60 years after Eva Du...

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More mugshots: Can 'Gotcha!' survive with 'Crime Times'?

What is it about mugshots that's so darn compelling? Some may call it schadenfreude, that hidden pleasure the misfortune of others, but for the publisher of the second mugshot mag to hit Central Virginia newsstands in less than six months, the money can't hurt.

In October, Media General, publisher of the Daily Progress and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, introduced Charlottesville and surrounding counties to Gotcha!, a weekly tabloid featuring recent arrestees and the crimes for which they're charged.

Like the competing  Crime Times, which first hit stands in June and has been doing brisk business (with circulation ballooning from 6,000 a week in June to 25,000 a week this month), Gotcha! retails for $1. It's apparently a small price for the pleasure of seeing the smiling, frowning, grimacing– and even bloodied– visages of recent arrestees.

In its first week at the store, says Kim Brown, co-owner of Brown's convenience store on Avon Street, sales have been brisk. Of the 25 delivered, 12 had sold in the first 48 hours. And once people see what's inside, she notes, sales may increase.

"I swore I wasn't going to read it," she laughs, "but then I heard they had restaurant violations."

...

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Huguely hearing: Mum on medical records, no TV in court

On Monday, November 7, the public got a taste of what's to come during a hearing on motions concerning the medical records of slain UVA student Yeardley Love. As attorney for alleged killer George Huguely, Fran Lawrence, made his argument for gaining access to the medical records and said that Huguely didn't know Love was dead when he left her, and that there "was very little blood" at the scene, his statements prompted an immediate objection from Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman.

"I'd like to ask the judge to take control of proceedings here," Chapman demanded. "This is more like an opening statement."

Love, a fourth-year student weeks from graduation, was found dead in her apartment May 3, 2010, from what the medical examiner called blunt force trauma.

In a hearing in December, Judge Robert Downer agreed Huguely's attorneys could see records relating to her use of Adderall, a commonly prescribed stimulant, which was found in her blood, but would not allow "a fishing expedition."

Chapman argued for the closed hearing as a way to "stop additional evidence" from coming to light, and "spin on the case" of the kind that Lawrence let slip. Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire grants the medical records motion, but then asked reporters, s...

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Halfaday balks: Charges dropped against campaign worker

Since entering Charlottesville politics earlier this year, James Halfaday has cut a wide– and, at times, bizarre– swath. Besides the fact that he now faces election fraud charges over his run for City Council, his post-campaign claim that a female volunteer with an opponent's campaign made him fear for his life raised eyebrows when he made the allegation in August. The case was thrown out of court Monday, but that still leaves the now-vindicated accusee, Nina Gregory, traumatized, according to her attorney.

Following his last-place finish in the Democratic primary, Halfaday, who's openly gay, obtained an emergency protective order against the married Gregory, a Democratic volunteer for another candidate. Alleging that Gregory had sent him 134 text messages, Halfaday claimed the woman made numerous phone calls and finally on August 23 (the same day Halfaday claims to be knocked unconscious during an earthquake), sent this message: "I love you. I want to be there. I've got a knife for us."

"There's absolutely no truth to these allegations," Gregory told the Hook August 29, the day she was arrested for allegedly violating a 72-hour emergency protective order. A judge had already refused to grant Halfaday a longer protective order.

Special prosecutor Jeff Haislip dropped the charge November 7 in Charlottesville General District Court....

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Unusual outcome: $722K in sanctions, juror judges judge

Nearly a year after a jury made one of the largest wrongful death awards in Virginia, the plaintiff and his attorney have seen the $10.6 million slashed– and been hit with one of the largest sanctions in Virginia legal history. And there's another nearly unprecedented development in the case stemming from the concrete truck rollover that killed Jessica Scott Lester four years ago: a juror has issued a written critique of the judge.

On October 21, ten months after a Charlottesville jury awarded widower Isaiah Lester $8.6 million– $2.35 million for his personal injuries and $6.227 million as the beneficiary of Jessica's estate–  and Jessica Lester's parents, Gary and Jeanne Scott, $1 million each, Judge Edward Hogshire signed the final order in Lester v. Allied Concrete. Citing misconduct by plaintiff's attorney Matt Murray and Isaiah Lester for spoliation– destruction– of evidence, Hogshire ordered that Murray pay $542,000 to the defense's law firm and that Lester pay $180,000.

"That sounds like the largest sanction I've ever heard of in Virginia," says Hook legal expert David Heilberg of Murray's amount; of Lester's, he says: "Yikes."

Still, it's less than the more than $900,000 in added legal costs the D.C...

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