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Taxpayers deserve full accounting of legal expenses in the case of the governor’s mansion chef.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
As Gov. Bob McDonnell hobbles toward the finish of his four-year term, his 2009 campaign slogan of “Bob’s for Jobs” has taken on a new meaning.
McDonnell, aided by the conflicted attorney general who hopes to succeed him, is generating work for private lawyers as he tries to free himself from a thicket of legal woes. Unfortunately, Virginia taxpayers are getting stuck with part of the tab.
Two law firms have billed the state more than $240,000 for representing McDonnell and state employees in a criminal case against former executive mansion chef Todd Schneider, according to news reports. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor, recused his office from the politically explosive case because of conflicting interests.
It was Schneider who told authorities about gifts McDonnell and his family accepted from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams Sr., a disclosure that triggered a corruption investigation of the governor. McDonnell supporters have created a defense fund to defray costs for private attorneys the governor has retained in the gifts probe.
Cuccinelli, to his political detriment, has accepted $18,000 in gifts from Williams. Richmond’s commonwealth’s attorney cleared Cuccinelli of criminal wrongdoing for failing to promptly disclose certain gifts from Williams and stock holdings in Star Scientific. Cuccinelli tried to mitigate the political damage last week by cutting an $18,000 check to charity.
But Williams is not the source of the conflict that led Cuccinelli to withdraw from the Schneider case in May. Cuccinelli’s office had conflicting roles as prosecutor and as lawyer for McDonnell and state employees who could be called as witnesses.
“Since it was improper to pick which role to drop and which to keep, the attorney general did the appropriate thing and asked to recuse his office from the case and appointed outside counsel for the governor and his staff,” said Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein.
One Richmond law firm has charged the state more than $143,000 so far for representing McDonnell. A second firm has billed the state $100,000 for representing other employees.
The governor is entitled to legal representation in matters related to his official duties. The attorney general’s conflict in the Schneider case is not McDonnell’s fault. Sadly, the taxpayers will have to pay for it. But, when the case is disposed of, they deserve a full accounting of the expenses charged by hired legal guns.
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