MARTINSBURG - Truth be told, Richard McCune never really believed his recent trip to Washington, D.C., would have a successful ending.
What the Martinsburg attorney didn't count on was the determination of his 89-year-old friend.
"I tried to tell him that meeting congressmen or senators or their representatives was doable," McCune said. "But Supreme Court justices needed to be isolated from the public because of their tremendous workload.
"Plus it was right before the start of a new term, and the odds were not good. I didn't think there was any chance of it."
Together, though, McCune and Abe DiBacco of Martinsburg penetrated the secret hallways at the U.S. Supreme Court en route to a 25-minute meeting with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.
Sporting a World War II veteran's cap and carrying an old picture of Roberts' father taken at a family reunion in Florida with nine of his aunts and uncles, DiBacco finagled his way into Roberts' office Sept. 26.
"I don't know anyone else who could have got away with what we did," McCune said.
Shortly after Roberts was named as William Rehnquist's replacement as the court's 17th chief justice last year, DiBacco told McCune about the photograph when the two ran into each other at the Blue White Restaurant in downtown Martinsburg. DiBacco's brother, one of his 12 siblings, had married into the Roberts' family when it was located in Tucker County and attended the same catholic church the DiBaccos did.
With the aid of congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito, DiBacco, who retired from the West Virginia Workers' Compensation Office, and Roberts exchanged letters. When McCune recommended that the members of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce visit the Supreme Court and take DiBacco with them on their yearly visit to Washington, a few people chuckled.
"It seemed like an amusing comment," McCune said. "That was all that was said."
When McCune mentioned the idea to DiBacco, he was met with an surprising response.
"He said, 'I'll go if you go,'" McCune said. "I wasn't expecting that, but there it was. I'd kind of put myself in a spot."
So McCune did go, and the two men took in the sights -- including the World War II Memorial, where DiBacco became so popular with other visitors that he had to instruct McCune to stop taking pictures because they'd need some for the Chief Justice -- before heading to the Supreme Court armed with the photograph of Roberts' father.
First, an employee at an information booth suggested they take the picture to the Marshal's office and, once there, a woman met with them and asked if she could take the picture to Roberts.
But DiBacco wasn't about to release his bargaining chip.
"If the Chief Justice wishes to see it, I would like to see him," DiBacco told her. "We have a tour at 2 (p.m.), and we'll be here a while. If the Chief Justice wants to see it, have someone come get us."
Sure enough, once their tour was over and the two were browsing through the gift shop, a woman came to get DiBacco and McCune to take them to Roberts' office.
"She said the Chief Justice would like to speak with us, so I looked at Abe and said, 'OK,' and off we went," McCune said.
Though it may have been some attorneys' dream, McCune said he had no interest of turning the conversation into a legal discussion. Instead, the three talked about their roots in West Virginia.
Roberts and DiBacco found common ground by sharing that they each had adopted two children.
"With Roberts it was a matter of coming from a small town and knowing his family that I guess touched a cord with the Chief Justice," McCune said. "It was quite a moment."
And DiBacco was finally ready to part with the photograph that had brought him all that way. When Roberts politely asked if he could keep it, DiBacco obliged.
"I could never have done what Abe did," McCune said. "He killed those people with kindness.
"It was something a man only with his temperament could have done. Everytime someone said 'no,' I'd tell Abe we should take the photo to the guard house or take it to the secretary and he said we had to do what we came for or we wouldn't have accomplished anything."
After a round of pictures, Roberts had an aide drive the two back to the Chamber of Commerce group they had ditched. McCune says Roberts promised to autograph the pictures if they are mailed to him, which they were last week.
One with just McCune and Roberts will be framed and placed in his office, McCune said, even if he took a backseat during the meeting.
"This was Abe's interview with the Chief Justice," he said. "I was there, I talked, but this was Abe's. I was lucky enough to be a part of it."