Policy: Law

Governor rehires outside counsel in McDonnell case

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Local,Virginia,Corruption,Bob McDonnell,Law

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — An outside law firm representing former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's staffers was back to work on their case two weeks after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring ended its contract, newly released invoices show.

On Jan. 16, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring terminated a contract with Baker & McKenzie, a large law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., that Herring's predecessor had hired to represent McDonnell's staffers during a federal corruption probe last year. Terminating the contract was one of Herring's first acts as the new Democratic attorney general. His office sent out a press release announcing the move.

But Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe quickly and quietly reversed that decision.

His spokesman Brian Coy said the governor's office began negotiating a new contract with the firm in February. The governor signed a new contract with Baker & McKenzie on March 25.

Invoices show the firm has billed nearly $18,000 for legal work between Feb. 1 and April 30 with an hourly rate of $395.

The Washington Post first reported that McAuliffe had rehired Baker & McKenzie.

Coy said McAuliffe rehired the firm because he thought the state employees who had done nothing wrong shouldn't be burdened with large legal fees.

"The governor believed it was the right thing to do," said Coy.

Herring spokesman Michael Kelly said the attorney general stands by his decision to terminate the contract, saying it was done in part to help save taxpayer money.

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were charged in January with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc. in exchange for helping to promote his products. They have pleaded not guilty, and none of their staffers have been charged with wrongdoing.

The McDonnells' legal team recently subpoenaed several McDonnell staffers for the upcoming jury trial in July. They include two cabinet officials — Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. William A. Hazel Jr. — who continued to work for McAuliffe.

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