CHARLOTTESVILLE — A former federal prosecutor who led a critical report of the University of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville’s responses to violent clashes in August 2017 will now be U.Va.’s top lawyer.
Former U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy will replace Roscoe Roberts, who is retiring at the end of the year, as university counsel. In his work for the university, Heaphy will have to draw on his experience balancing safety concerns with First Amendment rights, some of the hottest questions in higher education right now, according to experts.
“I imagine the decision-makers sat down and said, ‘What are the six things that scared us the most recently?’” said Peter Lake, a professor of law and higher education at Stetson University. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they wanted to pick someone who will be able to handle the religious freedom and First Amendment questions coming down the pike at many universities today.”
Heaphy is currently a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth and has transitioned between public and private work several times throughout his career. He was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia in 2009. He led two major investigations into off-label pharmaceutical marketing and into mortgage fraud, as well as cases related to national security, financial and health care fraud, public corruption, organized crime, environmental crime, money laundering and civil rights, among others.
He will make $179,000 for his work at U.Va. and will not be able to work in the private sector, according to his appointment letter from the Office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring.
Heaphy earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a law degree from U.Va. He was a student under Larry J. Sabato, who is the director of U.Va.’s Center for Politics.
“This is good for U.Va.,” Sabato wrote in an email Thursday. “Tim is a total professional, as he showed as U.S. attorney and also in writing an accurate, if painful, report on the events of Aug. 11-12 in Charlottesville.”
In 2017, Heaphy led a team of lawyers at Hunton & Williams who conducted an independent review of the white supremacist Aug. 11 torch march and Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally, which ended in a car speeding into counterprotesters and killing Heather Heyer. James A. Fields Jr. is charged with first-degree murder and federal hate crimes in the attack.
The university’s actions on Aug. 11 were slow, uncoordinated and largely ineffective, Heaphy said.
“Their response to the Friday night torchlight event was woefully inadequate, even for a small campus police department,” Heaphy’s report said. “The lack of police intervention on Friday night set a dangerous tone for the events of the next day. UPD’s lack of intervention was obvious to everyone present, both among the Unite the Right torch-bearers and the organized counter-protesters who were planning to attend the larger Saturday rally.”
In a news release announcing Heaphy’s appointment, the university pointed to new free-expression policies implemented in May and the expansion of safety and security efforts since his report.
In an email Thursday, Heaphy referred requests for comment on his appointment to his statement in the university’s release.
“U.Va. and Charlottesville are very special places for me and my family, and I can’t think of a better way to continue my career as a public servant in the law than to represent what I believe to be the best public university in the nation,” Heaphy said in the release. “I am grateful to Attorney General Herring for entrusting me with this responsibility, and I look forward to serving the U.Va. board of visitors, President [Jim] Ryan and the university’s distinguished faculty and staff.”
Prior to that role, he was a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods and served as assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and the Western District of Virginia from 1994 to 2006.
While some universities might like to hire lawyers with specific higher education expertise, there’s not many people with those qualifications to go around, Lake said.
“It’s like the Avengers,” he said. “You can’t always get the Hulk and Captain America in the same person; you can’t get all of the superpowers in one person. And sometimes you don’t get a superhero at all. But in Tim Heaphy, you have an Avenger.”
Heaphy is also founder and board chair of The Fountain Fund, a nonprofit organization in Charlottesville that provides low-interest loans to former prisoners. As a law student at U.Va., he helped start a loan forgiveness program for students who entered public service work after graduation.
In 2015, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed him to the Commission on Parole Review. He clerked for Judge John A. Terry of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and prior to law school served on the staff of then-Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
Roberts also was appointed by Herring. He is a former assistant attorney general and has been legal counsel for Virginia State University, James Madison University, Christopher Newport University and George Mason University. He also was counsel in civil matters in the cities of Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Hopewell and the counties of Prince George, Dinwiddie, Surry and Charles City.
Heaphy’s term begins Sept. 1.