Attorney General Jason Miyares fired University of Virginia (UVA) counsel Tim Heaphy, who was on leave to work as chief investigative counsel for the Congressional select committee on the January 6 riot.
Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The New York Times, “This is purely payback for Jan. 6 — there is no other reason that makes any sense.”
“The decision had nothing to do with the January 6th committee or their investigations. It is common practice for an incoming administration to appoint new staff that share the philosophical and legal approach of the Attorney General. Every counsel serves at the pleasure of the Attorney General,” the office of the attorney general said in a statement.
Before his time at UVA, Heaphy conducted an independent review of the violent Charlottesville 2017 Unite the Right rally, finding that local law enforcement failed to maintain order. In 2015, he served on former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Commission on Parole Review, focused on evaluating the effectiveness of Virginia’s abolition of parole. Heaphy also served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia from 2009 through 2014.
Heaphy’s termination is part of a wave of firings as Miyares’ transitioned into his new position.
“There’s no question the attorney general replaces people in jobs that are seen as political appointments, but you’re usually only talking about seven or eight people. It’s usually not thirty. So that’s highly unusual in the attorney general’s office,” Surovell told The Virginia Star.
He said that he had never heard of the attorney general treating university counsel as political appointments. “Back when the universities started to finally get general counsels on campus there was a little bit of friction, back, I believe, in the late ’80s, but it’s my understanding that the AG’s office gives pretty substantial deference to the board of visitors of the universities as to who they want to advise them.”
Surovell said, “I think this new attorney general is setting some really unfortunate precedents for future transitions. And a transition ought to be that, a transition, it shouldn’t be a series of amputations or organ transplants. I’m a litigator, it’s what I do for a living, and transitioning a case or legal matters from one lawyer to the other takes time and some care. Attorneys have ethical obligations to their clients to ensure that when a case is transitioned, it’s done in a way that doesn’t harm the client’s interest. Dropping a case on 24 hours’ notice makes that virtually impossible.”
Speaking about Miyares’ terminations in general, Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) told The Star that he had a friend who had worked for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Suetterlein’s friend was terminated when Mark Herring took office.
“He hoped to go to the media and talk about how terrible it was that he’d lost his job, and others. And I told him, it’s not going to be a story because this is how it works,” Suetterlein said. “The attorney general gets to choose who he wants on his staff, the governor gets to choose who he wants on his staff.”
“What’s been helpful for the Democratic appointees is that the press has been very kind to them, and all these articles have been written about these people leaving the attorney general’s office. That was the same article my friend was hoping for eight years ago that I told him wasn’t going to come,” Suetterlein said. “And I can tell you that the next time a Democratic attorney general is elected, there will be Republican-inclined folks with Republican philosophies that will be let go, and there probably won’t be an article about it. And then the next time a Republican attorney general replaces a Democrat and he changes some folks that disagree with what he’s trying to do, then there will probably be an article.”
– – –
Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Jason Miyares” by Jason Miyares. Photo “Timothy Heaphy” by United States Department of Justice. Background Photo “University of Virginia” by Patrickneil. CC BY-SA 3.0.