Navy vet-turned-WVU law student stays the course with high court

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 2, 2006

MORGANTOWN -- Thomas "Thom" Boggs is no stranger to rough seas.

MORGANTOWN -- Thomas "Thom" Boggs is no stranger to rough seas.

After all, he's a U.S. Navy veteran and full-time law student at West Virginia University – on top of being a married father of two teen-agers.

That experience served the Huntington native well Wednesday (March 1) at the WVU College of Law, where the second-year student withstood salvo after salvo from the state's highest court to walk away with his college's prestigious Baker Cup.

Students in the Baker Cup competition argue mock cases with real-world ramifications, and this case (Townsend v. Norris) couldn't have been more timely – or real.

The case, in the fictitious state of Morgan, pitted Boggs against Amber Drumheller, a Lovingston, Va. , native who is also a second-year student.

It all came down to whether sporting a vanity plate gave an automatic license for free speech – and only the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would have the last word.

The mock case involved a young woman and outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq who applied for a vanity plate carrying the statement "4 PEACE."

Morgan's Department of Motor Vehicles, meanwhile, denied the request, saying the message was inappropriate in that the government "owned" the plate it issued – meaning it couldn't and shouldn't sanction what was clearly a political statement on the woman's part.

In the scenario, the woman sued, saying her free speech rights were violated under the First Amendment and retained Boggs as her attorney.

"It was pretty clear-cut in a lot of ways," Boggs said, "but at the same time, the justices didn't hold back. And they had a lot of questions that started out with, 'Now, wait a minute, let's back up.' You had to be on your toes with case law."

Boggs and Drumheller took their arguments before Justices Larry Starcher, Robin Davis, Joseph Albright and Brent Benjamin in the student competition.

Justice Elliot Maynard, who had heard cases with his judicial colleagues earlier in the day as part of the high court's annual visit to WVU, was unable to attend the afternoon session.

Drumheller said she enjoyed the experience – even if she did have the tougher argument in her representation of the Morgan DMV.

"Thom was right about knowing the case law," she said. "I was pretty comfortable with that. Both of us couldn't help but be a little intimidated, but it was a great opportunity. This is the Supreme Court."

Drumheller is a magna cum laude graduate of Bridgewater College with degrees in psychology, philosophy and religion. This summer she'll clerk at the Charleston law firm, Kay Casto & Chaney.

Boggs has a worked as a paralegal and is a summa cum laude graduate of Marshall University . He returned to school after pulling a hitch in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a hospital corpsman with the Marines. He'll clerk this summer with the Duffield & Lovejoy law firm in Huntington .

The Baker Cup competition was created in 1926 by George Coleman Baker, who graduated from the College of Law in 1886.

The event lives on today in memory of his son, Judge Charles Baker, who followed his father to the College of Law and earned his degree in 1913. Judge Baker's daughters, Betty Sue Armistead and Mary-Jane Baker English, established the competition's Baker Cup Endowment in 1980.

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