Republican senators are criticizing the choice of law firm Nixon Peabody to investigate the investigation into the Virginia Parole Board (VPB). An appointment letter published by the Office of the Attorney General states that the firm was chosen in part to avoid any firms with a strong connection to Virginia. But a week after the announcement, Senators Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) suggested that the Nixon Peabody team is politically biased.
“The selection of a heavily Democrat law firm based in Massachusetts to lead this highly political investigation into the current issues swirling around the Virginia Parole Board is par for the course with this Administration and Attorney General,” Newman said in a Friday press release.
In the press release, the senators highlight the international firm’s predominately Democratic contributions. The senators also attack the specific record of investigation team lead Travis Hill, who worked for the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
Obenshain said, “The team hired by Mark Herring is led by a lawyer only months removed from his employment as a senior official in the New York Attorney General’s office where he worked for three of the most liberal Attorneys General in America. The lead attorney just slid out of the Attorney General’s office and into a lucrative and clubby Attorney General’s practice where he has now landed this project for another Democrat Attorney General. Just like everything else related to this scandal, this smells rotten. This engagement shows that this so-called investigation is nothing but an expensive exercise in political back scratching.”
The team is barred from talking to the media by the terms of the appointment letter.
Martin was convicted of killing police officer Michael Connors in 1979. Martin was sentenced in 1980 to life with the possibility of parole. In an April 2020 press release announcing the decision to parole Martin, the VPB said that Martin had been infraction-free for over 30 years while incarcerated. The release said that Martin was a “trusted leader” who helped staff quell prison uprisings and had gained the support of corrections staff. In March 2021, Governor Ralph Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer called the decision to parole Martin “a great and bold decision.”
After the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) found problems in the Virginia Parole Board’s handling of victim notifications in the Vincent Martin parole case, Republicans asked for a new investigation that will also look at other alleged cases with violations. Democratic officials are limiting the scope of the new investigation to merely examining the OSIG investigation, which they argue was politically biased. Republicans say Democrats are trying to bury a scandal. Democrats say Republicans are moving the goalposts because they don’t approve of parole.
“The Inspector General’s report was filled with political bias and demonstrably incorrect legal and policy conclusions,” Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said in April. “Parole and mandatory minimums are the Republicans’ Alamo against criminal justice reform. They just got the investigation they requested and now they are pushing the goalposts outside of the stadium.”
When General Assembly Republicans voted against funding the investigation, Delegate Don Scott, Jr. (D-Portsmouth) said, “I’ve been listening over and over throughout our last session as well as today. And folks said they wanted an investigation.”
Scott added, “Now we know what the real issue is. It’s about politics, pure and simple, and it’s not about necessarily protecting the public. We know that the folks who speak on this issue, they are diametrically, in their soul they are opposed to parole, they are opposed to second chances.”
“The goal of any investigation should be to search for the truth, not to further cover up the laws and agency policies that appear to have been broken by the Parole Board,’ Newman said in the Friday press release.
“Was the firm chosen to merely serve as a rubber stamp for Richmond Democrats and their lack of appetite for the truth? It is disappointing the Parole Board wasn’t immediately dealt with by the Governor when reports of misconduct came to light, but now wasting $250,000 of taxpayer money on a substantially partisan law firm to investigate the very agency that authored those reports is hardly appropriate or helpful,” Newman said.
The Nixon Peabody team’s report will be sent to top government officials from both political parties, and is due June 15, 2021.
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