Board members question MWAA spending for Martire’s legal expenses

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has spent $75,000 to cover the legal fees of a member who is fighting his ouster from the board that is overseeing construction of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project.

Dennis Martire, one of five Virginia representatives on the 13-member board, filed suit in June to block efforts by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to oust him.

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Martire maintains that his removal is politically motivated. McDonnell has argued that Martire damaged his credibility with questionable expenses, including spending nearly $9,200 to travel business class to a conference in Prague and a nine-day trip to Sardinia for a 36-hour conference.

Martire did not violate any of the authority’s travel policies.

MWAA’s covering of Martire’s legal fees is not without precedent. In the late 1990s, the authority paid legal fees for board member Dan Alcorn after then-Gov. Douglas Wilder (D) tried to remove him from the board. Alcorn, who initiated the legal action, won the case.

“MWAA’s bylaws provide for mandatory indemnification for legal costs and expenses when a director is a party to a legal proceeding by virtue of his or her status as a director,” Martire said in an e-mail. “I have made a request for indemnification to MWAA for legal costs and expenses pursuant to these bylaws.”

But the suit and its growing cost has deepened divisions on a board under fire for hiring former members as consultants, for spending lavishly on business travel and entertainment, and for what have been deemed questionable contracting practices. The board’s conduct earned a sharp rebuke last week from the nation’s top transportation official, the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the District’s mayor.

In addition to overseeing construction of the Silver Line extension, MWAA is responsible for managing Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport and the Dulles Toll Road.

David Mould, an MWAA spokesman, said board members discussed Martire’s legal expenses June 20, less than a week after Martire filed suit.

Although the board did not vote on the matter, an agreement was reached to pay $75,000, Mould said. It will be up to the board to determine whether to cover more of Martire’s fees, he added.

A letter obtained by The Washington Post makes it clear that some board members are questioning whether it is the authority’s responsibility to pay Martire’s legal expenses.

Thomas M. Davis III, Frank M. Conner III and Todd A. Stottlemyer sent a letter to MWAA board President Michael A. Curto on Aug. 9 in which they called the authority’s pledge to provide legal coverage to members acting in board roles “a sword” that could fund their own destruction.

“We intend at the [Sept. 5] meeting to work through this,” Davis said. “The optics on this are not pretty.”

It is possible the board could be responsible for additional legal expenses should Martire lose his case and state officials turn to MWAA to recover the money it is spending to defend others involved in the litigation, including Caren Merrick, the McLean businesswoman McDonnell appointed to replace Martire on the board.

Her appointment remains in limbo until the case is resolved.

Martire, an official with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, was appointed to the board by McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine.

Martire has clashed with McDonnell over several issues, including an effort to include a labor-friendly provision as part of the second phase of construction of the Silver Line rail project.

 
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