CHARLOTTESVILLE — New Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has fired attorneys at two major public universities, his office said, marking bigger changes as the Republican takes on his new post.
University of Virginia attorney Tim Heaphy and George Mason University attorney Brian Walther were fired, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita told The Washington Post. Academic trustees at public colleges and universities in Virginia are appointed by the Attorney General.
Heaphy, who along with UVa also confirmed his withdrawal, worked at the school for about three years. He was on furlough to work as lead investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection on Capitol Hill, the newspaper said.
LaCivita said Heaphy’s firing had nothing to do with that investigative role. On the contrary, she said in a statement, Heaphy was a “controversial” recruit and Miyares’ Democratic predecessor, Mark Herring, “ruled out many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular college lawyer.” .
People also read…
“Our decision was made after reviewing legal decisions made over the past two years,” LaCivita said. “The Attorney General wants the university lawyer to go back to giving legal advice based on the law and not on the philosophy of a university. We plan to search internally for the next lead counsel first.
Michael Kelly, Herring’s former chief of staff, said LaCivita’s characterization of Heaphy’s hiring was inaccurate. Heaphy was a qualified attorney with a lot of experience and the UVa administration’s first choice, Kelly wrote in an email.
“Far from being controversial, his hiring was celebrated by the university community and leadership,” Kelly wrote.
Referring to Walther’s firing, according to the newspaper, LaCivita said it’s common for a new attorney general to appoint a lawyer who shares his “philosophy and legal approach.” Both Heaphy and Walther are Democrats, according to the Post. LaCivita also did not say whether other attorneys at Virginia public colleges and universities had been fired.
A former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, Heaphy was hired by UVa in 2018. He previously led an independent investigation into the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
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 attorney. UVa said in a statement that executives were grateful for Heaphy’s “outstanding service” and “disappointed to see it come to an end.”
Walther referred questions about his dismissal to George Mason University’s communications department, which referred questions to Miyares’ office. The school said Walther has been a lawyer since 2017 and “the Mason community is grateful to Brian for his hard work and many years of service.”
Miyares, who defeated Herring in the November election, was sworn in Jan. 15. About 30 staff members were fired by Miyares shortly before he took office, according to the newspaper.