CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s new Attorney General Jason Miyares has fired lawyers for two large public universities, his office said, marking more significant changes as the Republican ascends to his new job.
Tim Heaphy, counsel for the University of Virginia, and George Mason University counsel Brian Walther have been let go, Miyares spokesperson Victoria LaCivita told The Washington Post. School counsel within Virginia's public colleges and universities are appointed by the attorney general.
Heaphy, who along with UVA also confirmed his removal, worked at the school for about three years. He was on leave from the job to work as the top investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the newspaper said.
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LaCivita said Heaphy’s firing had nothing to do with that investigative role. Rather, she said in a statement, Heaphy was a “controversial” hire and Miyares’ Democratic predecessor, Mark Herring, had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.”
“Our decision was made after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years,” LaCivita said. “The Attorney General wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university. We plan to look internally first for the next lead counsel.”
Michael Kelly, Herring’s former chief of staff, said LaCivita’s characterization of Heaphy’s hiring was inaccurate. Heaphy was a well-qualified attorney with much experience and the first choice of UVA’s administration, Kelly wrote in an email.
“Far from being controversial, his hire was celebrated by the university community and leadership,” Kelly wrote.
Referencing Walther's firing, according to the newspaper, LaCivita said it is common for an incoming attorney general to appoint counsel that shares its “philosophy and legal approach.” Both Heaphy and Walther are Democrats, according to the Post. LaCivita also didn't say whether other counsels at Virginia’s public colleges and universities had been let go.
A former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Heaphy was hired by UVA in 2018. Earlier, he had conducted an independent investigation of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Heaphy, a UVA graduate and longtime Charlottesville resident, said in a statement that it has been “a tremendous honor and privilege” to serve as the school’s counsel. UVA said in a statement that leaders were grateful for Heaphy’s “outstanding service” and “disappointed to see it come to an end.”
Walther referred questions about his firing to George Mason’s university communications department, which referred questions to Miyares’ office. The school said Walther had served as counsel since 2017 and “the Mason community is grateful to Brian for his work and his many years of service.”
Miyares, who defeated Herring in the November election, was sworn in on Jan. 15. Roughly 30 staffers were let go by Miyares shortly before he took office, according to the newspaper.