A. Claiborne Leigh, the colorful and outspoken former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors charges during the county's 1960s zoning scandal, is seeking to regain his Virginia law license.
A Harvard law school graduate, Leigh, 54, was disbarred after his 1967 conviction on U.S. bribery conspiracy charges. He was accused of receiving a $5,500 payoff for a favorable vote on rezoning for a trailer park.
Leigh, who was seen as having a bright political future before the scandel, spent nine months in federal prison before being paroled in May 1970.
"He definitely was down and out and really scratching" after his conviction, recalled a Fairfax lawyer who knows Leigh. "He's just worked his way painfully back."
Leigh, who now lives in Richmond, opened his own title insurance company there about a year ago after working for other companies for several years, according to his wife, Elise.
His past is behind him, his wife said yesterday. "He's reestablished his credibility, she said. "He conducts his business as a gentleman and as a man."
Today, Leigh and his lawyer, T. Brooke Howard of Alexandria, will appear before a closed session of the Virginia State Bar's disciplinary board in Richmond to make a plea for his law license to be restored. The final decison will be made by the Virginia Supreme Court, which will act on a recommendation from the disciplinary panel.
Only one lawyer has had his law license reinstated out of the four or five who have appealed to the disciplinary panel since it was formed four years ago, said state bar counsel Michael Rigsby. Citing the confidentiality of disciplinary proceedings, Rigby said he could not divulge the contents of Leigh's petition, which was filed late last year.
Leigh was one, of 15 Fairfax County officials and developers indicated in a corruption probe that rocked the county and resulted in sweeping reforms in the Fairfax's rezoning practices.
Two years after his conviction in the corruption probe, Leigh and four others were convicted in 1969 on federal charges of fraudulently obtaining more than $600,000 in loans from a Washington savings and loan association by allegedly submitting forged mortgaged applications. That conviction resulted from an investigation unrelated to the zoning scandal.
Leigh, a Republican, served on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors from 1956 until 1963, including a stint as chairman. Zoning and land development issues were major political topics during that period as the county board wrestled with proposals for the then barren Tysons Corner area and for high rise developments in the McLean area, Leigh represented.
Former congressman Stanford E. Parris, who took office as a supervisor in 1964, recalled yesterday that county residents were shocked by the zoning scandal. "Very few people had any idea it was going on," Parris said.
Parris said Leigh "was very well thought of as a human being." I recall Claiborn as being very intelligent, very quick-witted and very easy to talk to," Parris said.
The scandal began in 1966 when a U.S. grand jury returned 24 zoning bribery conspiracy indictments against 15 county officials and developers. Of the 15, eight were convicted, including Leigh, former supervisors Robert C. Cotten, John P. Parrish and five developers.
In January 1967, Leigh, Cotten and four developers were found guilty in federal court in Alexandria of conspiring to use interstate facilities to pay a $5,500 bribe to Leigh for the favorable vote in the trailer park case in 1961. The government alleged that Leigh divided the $5,500 with two other supervisors.
Leigh later was acquitted of two other federal bribery conspiracy charges. A Fairfax County grand jury indicated Leigh and several others on zoning bribery charges in May 1967, but the charges against Leigh were dropped before trial after the prosecution failed to win convictions at the earlier trials in the case.
In May 1969, Leigh and four other men, including a former Leigh law partner, were convicted in federal court in Washington on 13 counts for submitting false loan applications to get more than $600,000 in loans from Eastern Savings and Loan Association of Washington in 1962 and 1963.
Leigh was sentenced to up to five years in federal prison on the bank fraud charges, but the judge suspended all but three months of the sentence, which he was allowed to serve concurrently with the two-year sentence he received in the zoning case.