Politics or payback?
New Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) fired Tim Heaphy, the top lawyer at the University of Virginia, who was on leave to work as the top investigator for the House select committee investigating he Jan. 6 Capitol siege, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Sunday.
Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita noted that the new attorney general also fired the counsel for George Mason University, Brian Walther, calling it "common practice for an incoming administration to appoint new staff that share the philosophical and legal approach of the attorney general." Heaphy and Walther are both Democrats. "The decision had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 committee or their investigations," LaCivita said, but was made "after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years." She claimed Heaphy was a "controversial" hire in 2018.
Virginia Democrats disputed all those characterizations. "No attorney general has treated these positions as political," state Sen. Scott Surovell (D) told the Post. "This is purely payback for Jan. 6 — there is no other reason that makes any sense," he told the Times. "In our state, we normally leave those decisions to the school's board of visitors and president."
Virginia attorneys general oversee a range of lawyers across the state, including the top lawyers at public colleges and universities. "The posts are typically held by career lawyers who are rarely replaced when new attorneys general take over," the Times reports. Surovell said he could think of no such examples from recent history.
Michael Kelly, chief of staff to former Attorney General Mark Herring (D), said Heaphy was the first choice of University of Virginia's administration, a well-qualified attorney with decades of experience and two degrees from the university. "Far from being controversial, his hire was celebrated by the university community and leadership," he said.
The University of Virginia and George Mason referred questions about the firings to Miyares' office. "University leaders are grateful to Tim for his outstanding service to our community and disappointed to see it come to an end," said Brian Coy, a spokesman for the University of Virginia. "If you have further questions about this matter, I would check with the attorney general's office, as this was their decision to make."