The private law firm representing current and former Virginia employees in the federal corruption case against the state’s former governor never stopped working for their clients or billing for their services — even as Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) announced in January that he was letting the firm go, according to recently released invoices.
The day after Herring announced in a news release that he was dismissing Baker & McKenzie, those at the firm spent more than an hour corresponding with clients “regarding continued representation” — and billed the state accordingly, the invoices show. The firm continued to work throughout January, February, March and April, charging the state a little more than $23,600, the invoices show.
Spokesmen for Herring and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) confirmed last week that Baker & McKenzie attorneys had been quietly rehired; on Friday, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said they were allowed to backdate their charges into February. But the new invoices indicate that there was almost no break in their work — save for about two weeks at the beginning of February — and cast Herring’s January announcement about their dismissal as one with significantly more show than substance.
Herring spokesman Michael Kelly said that attorney general staffers did not know that the governor had rehired Baker & McKenzie until May, when the office received a bill for services rendered in April. He said that Herring expected that the firm’s work would end “following a reasonable and ethically required period of wrap-up time” — which explains the steady stream of charges after their formal dismissal in January — and a bill with charges from February and March was sent to an employee on a medical leave.
Coy said staffers in the governor’s office were in touch with their counterparts in the attorney general’s office in February as they moved to rehire the firm, which they did formally in March.
The bills footed by Virginia taxpayers in the federal corruption case against former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen, have long been fraught with controversy. Herring’s predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli II (R), had hired Baker & McKenzie and another firm, Eckert Seamans, after determining that he had a conflict of interest. Baker & McKenzie was tasked with representing state employees, including Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore and Health and Human Resources Secretary William A. Hazel Jr.; Eckert Seamans, was to represent McDonnell in his official capacity as governor. The firms charged about $785,000 until Herring, ostensibly, dismissed them.
Kelly said that Herring cut ties with Baker & McKenzie “because the conflict the previous attorney general had did not apply to him.” The governor, though, decided that their services were necessary to spare state employees the potentially “exorbitant” cost of hiring their own attorneys, according to Coy and the invoices.
The firm’s work in recent months has included meetings, phone calls and e-mails with prosecutors and defense attorneys and reviewing filings in the case. At the end of April, they began preparing for trial, the invoices show.
The McDonnells have their own attorneys, paid in part by a legal defense fund. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, and a trial is scheduled for July.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.