Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spent more than $1 million on legal fees to defend a board member in a dispute with Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
In June, McDonnell (R) attempted to remove Dennis Martire, a union official, from the board, which is overseeing construction of the $5.6 billion Dulles Rail extension. But Martire resisted. He filed suit to block his ouster, although after months of litigation, he reached a settlement in September and agreed to step aside.
Under MWAA’s bylaws, the authority was obligated to pay for Martire’s legal expenses in the dispute, and in all MWAA spent about $1.5 million on legal fees. The biggest share — $855,000 — went to Williams & Connolly, which represented Martire in the case. The authority paid $360,000 to Hunton & Williams, which represented the authority in the litigation.
“The complexity and the number of parties led to the significance of the fees,” said Michael Curto, chairman of the MWAA board. “That’s why we were very supportive of the parties reaching a settlement before the fees got higher.’’
The six-figure outlay on Martire’s behalf outraged three of Martire’s board colleagues, who feared that the dispute would drag on for months and would end up totaling several million dollars.
But records show that MWAA also paid $195,000 in legal fees to DLA Piper for those three board members — former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, Rusty Conner and Todd Stottlemyer — after they became caught up in the litigation. Conner is a partner at DLA Piper.
The authority also paid $102,000 to the firm Troutman Sanders, which represented Caren Merrick, who was named by the governor to replace Martire on the board. MWAA agreed to pay her fees as part of the confidential settlement that ended the litigation with Martire. MWAA and governor’s office have declined to release a copy of the settlement.
It is possible that Martire’s actual fees were higher, but as part of the confidential settlement that ended the litigation, the authority and Martire’s lawyers agreed to have a third party determine what fees were “reasonable.”
Martire defended his right to fight his ouster and MWAA’s obligation to cover his legal costs. “All I did was exercise my due process rights to defend myself,” he said. “I used the MWAA indemnification [clause] as other board members did. I didn’t ask the governor to take action against me.”
Phil Sunderland, MWAA’s general counsel, said that in the wake of the Martire case, the authority will reexamine its indemnity clause.
Martire, who was appointed to the board by McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, Tim Kaine, had clashed with McDonnell on a variety of issues, including the inclusion of a labor-friendly provision in the contract for the second phase of the rail project.
Martire contended his dismissal was politically motivated. But the fact that Martire spent $38,000 attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011, including more than $9,000 on a plane ticket to Prague, damaged the labor leader’s credibility and made him an easy target for McDonnell and other MWAA critics.
McDonnell’s attempt to remove Martire from the board was seen as part of a broader strategy to exert more control over the authority, which manages Reagan National and Washington Dulles airports as well as the Dulles Toll Road.