It hasn't been a good week for Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R), the lawyer.
On consecutive work days, two judges apparently thought that positions taken by Earley's office were so wrong that they didn't even take time to leave the bench before ruling.
In throwing out Earley's attempt to draw New York City into a lawsuit brought against the state by trash haulers, a federal judge Monday asked a top Earley aide, from the bench, "Are there still some lawyers present over there in the attorney general's office?"
Last Friday, a Richmond Circuit Court judge had no trouble deciding that Regent University is a sectarian school that does not qualify for selling low-interest bonds through the Virginia College Building Authority.
As legal counsel to the authority, Earley's office was charged with advising it on the Regent request. The attorney general's staff said that a preliminary review suggested the university's request would meet constitutional scrutiny but suggested that the building authority seek a court ruling to that effect.
Had the requested $55 million in bonds been issued through the authority, Regent would have saved about $30 million over the life of the debt.
Regent's founder, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, gave $50,000 to Earley's successful campaign for attorney general in 1997, making him Earley's largest benefactor.
Those two public spankings came just a couple weeks after another federal judge struck down Virginia's ban on "partial birth" abortions, saying that forbidding the rarely used, late-term procedure "imposes an undue burden on the right to obtain an abortion."
Earley, who has been a vigorous opponent of abortion throughout his public career, immediately pledged to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, the attorney general isn't faring the best as a political fund-raiser either.
His putative challenger for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2001, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, has the edge in fund-raising reported through June 30. Hager collected $217,713 from 192 contributors, while Earley picked up $198,264 from 162 donors.
Hager has raised more than double Earley's contributions in June, the latest month covered by the report, raising $143,155 to Earley's $62,250.
With their expected showdown more than two years away, both officeholders are likely to use the funds, gathered in the name of political action committees--Earley's is the Campaign for Virginia's Future; Hager's is the New Majority Project--to help Republican candidates in the GOP's attempt to gain full control of the General Assembly in this November's legislative elections.
The top individual contributor to either candidate in the last six months was Richmond crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, who gave $10,000 to Hager's PAC.
Going to the GOP
Who says all reporters are liberal? Not in Richmond, at least.
In the last month, two television reporters, Tim Murtaugh and Randy Davis, have left journalism to work for Republicans.
The 30-year-old Murtaugh takes over Aug. 16 as spokesman for the Virginia Republican Party.
A native of the Philadelphia area, Murtaugh came to Virginia eight years ago, as a reporter for a Fredericksburg radio station, after graduating from Temple University. He joined WVIR-TV, Channel 29, in Charlottesville about six years ago, and has been its Richmond correspondent the last five years.
Although he enjoyed his job in television, Murtaugh said he decided it would not be "rewarding as a lifelong career." And a "stifling, noncompete" clause in his contract prevented him from moving to any station in Richmond, meaning that if he wanted to work in a larger market, he would have to leave the area.
Murtaugh is taking a position that has been vacant because the recently resigned executive director, Chris LaCivita, served as his own flack. LaCivita has moved on to the George Allen-for-Senate campaign, and has not been replaced at party headquarters.
So when LaCivita came to him recently, he jumped at the chance.
"I've been a Republican my whole life," Murtaugh said. In watching legislative debates, Murtaugh said: "You can't help taking sides in your mind, and I always found myself agreeing with the Republican position. Their vision of the least possible interference in people's lives always seemed the best to me."
Incidentally, at Channel 29, Murtaugh succeeded Lila Young, who left the news business to become deputy press secretary to Gov. James S. Gilmore III.
Murtaugh's defection is especially noteworthy because he has been serving as president of the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association, a loose-knit group of reporters who regularly cover goings-on around the statehouse.
Davis left a 22-year career in broadcast journalism in June to become deputy press secretary to Earley. Davis, whose most recent job had been with public television, said that he has been watching politicians over the years and "liked what I saw in Mark Earley." Davis said that while he was "unbiased" as a radio and television reporter, he has been a nominal Republican since the late '80s.
Davis will report to another former reporter, David B. Botkins, who before going to work for Earley and before that for the state Corrections Department, worked for the Daily News Leader in Staunton. The third person in Earley's press shop is Christa A. Perez, whose previous experience was with the National Empowerment Television (now America's Voice) in Washington and with Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.
Just to show that all reporters aren't Republicans: Steve Vaughan left the Lynchburg News and Advance at the end of the General Assembly session to work for Democratic state Senate challenger Jim Campbell.
Vaughan, who was Murtaugh's predecessor as president of the correspondent's association, left the newspaper after a shouting match on the Senate floor, during a recess, with the man Campbell hopes to unseat, Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg).