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Roanoke Times Features Morgan Scott

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'Old master' of law Scott steps down

Morgan Scott, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, has served since 1975.

By Lindsey Nair, The Roanoke Times
published Sunday, July 2, 2006

U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad was still a law student in the early 1970s when he was told to drive to Newport News and watch two hot attorneys in action.

To his surprise, one of them turned out to be Morgan Scott, who had been just two years ahead of him at the College of William and Mary.

"He was at the top of his game from the very beginning," Conrad said.

More than 30 years later, as Scott retires from his post as first assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, his colleagues bemoan the loss of an "old master" of the law.

"He has an absolutely untiring and understated passion to accomplish justice with quiet genius, humility and humor," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Wolthuis.

Scott, 58, who is from Radford, served three years as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Newport News before he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke in 1975. He planned to be a career prosecutor, and except for the seven years he spent as clerk of federal court from 1994 to 2001, Scott did just that.

"It was a great place to work," he said. "You couldn't have a better client than the United States of America."

With stints in Abingdon and Charlottesville, Scott handled some civil cases but eventually focused entirely on putting criminals behind bars.

In the late 1970s, he prosecuted Pittsylvania County's commonwealth's attorney for taking bribes from brothel operators. Just last year, he helped put away New River Valley cocaine ring leader Richard Lighty for 60 years.

"I think it's fair to say that Morgan Scott made this community a much better, safer place to live," said U.S. Attorney John Brownlee.

In the courtroom, friends say, Scott had a gracious, down-to-earth style that appealed to defense attorneys and judges alike. But he could also "very quietly just shred you," Wolthuis said.

"I thought he was a good prosecutor, yet he wasn't a mean prosecutor," said U.S. District Judge James Turk. "I think he always wanted to play fair and he wasn't a cutthroat lawyer."

Not all of Scott's cases were serious. In fact, Conrad said, Scott seemed to get all the weirdest ones.
He once prosecuted two toothless mountain people for harvesting moss from trees on federal land.

"The whole time he dealt with it, it was so serious," Conrad said, "but his eyes were just alight with humor."
Without fail, every one of Scott's colleagues said they'll miss that sense of humor and affinity for practical jokes.

"What I loved about Morgan is that he took work seriously, but he did not take himself seriously, and that is a rare quality," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Lustig.

When U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson was with the U.S. Attorney's Office years ago, he represented the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a contentious case over the Roanoke River.

Wilson said everybody was up in arms over the issue, so, as a joke, Scott affixed a bumper sticker to Wilson's car that read, "Damn the Corps of Engineers."

Wilson says he rode around with that sticker on his car for some time before he noticed it.
"He was probably one of the most fun people I ever worked with," Wilson said.

Young prosecutors such as Lustig will remember Scott for taking them under his wing, introducing them around and teaching them all about jury trials.

Now, Scott will take that same mentoring quality to Roanoke College, where he will teach criminal justice classes in the fall.

Said Wilson, "Those kids are in for a real treat with that guy."

Replacing Scott as first assistant will be Julie Dudley, an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Attorney's Office. She has served as the civil chief there for the past five years.

Reprinted online with permission of The Roanoke Times