Charlottesville firebrand civil rights attorney Jeff Fogel has filed suit over the city’s decision to commission former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy to conduct an independent review of the white nationalist and white supremacist rallies held in the city this year.
Fogel, a defense attorney who has brought multiple suits against the city in the past, filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that City Manager Maurice Jones did not have the authority to sanction the contract between the city and Heaphy’s law firm, Hunton & Williams. The suit asks the Charlottesville Circuit Court to declare the contract null and void.
“Only the city attorney has the right to hire outside counsel, and then only with the approval of the City Council,” Fogel said at a news conference Thursday. “That did not happen here.”
Fogel’s suit, which lists five city residents as plaintiffs, includes a copy of the Aug. 24 contract signed by Heaphy and Jones but not by City Attorney Craig Brown. Hence, Fogel argues that Jones’ actions went beyond his authority.
When reached, Brown said that he was aware that the city was hiring outside counsel ahead of the contract’s completion. Asked about Fogel’s assertion that only Brown could make such a hire, Brown said the city “will disagree with that” when they file a response to the suit.
A spokeswoman for the city declined to comment on the matter. A request for comment from Heaphy went unanswered.
Fogel said the matter was not merely a “procedural issue” because, had the contract come before the City Council for approval, the public would have been able to enter objections to Heaphy’s hiring. Emails between Heaphy and city officials show that Heaphy solicited the independent review and offered praise to both Jones and Mayor Mike Signer — a move that led Fogel to question Heaphy’s ability to remain fair.
The price tag of Heaphy’s services — $545 per hour, with costs capped at $100,000 — is also an eyebrow-raiser, said Fogel, who argues that the market price for legal counsel in Charlottesville is much lower. He further referenced Heaphy’s “long relationship” with some of the people whose conduct he is reviewing, including Signer.
Tanesha Hudson, one of the five plaintiffs in the case, said she had concerns about Heaphy’s prior work as a federal prosecutor. Hudson and Fogel said Heaphy had a penchant for doling out harsh sentences for drug offenders and using unnecessary mandatory minimums.
“You were just a U.S. attorney, abusing your power to give people life sentences,” Hudson said, specifically pointing to the adjudications of Louis Antonio Bryant and Claiborne Maupin.
Bryant, an alleged leader of a Charlottesville gang, was sentenced in 2006 to life in prison on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder. Maupin pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“I just think we deserve way more than [the city] is willing to give us at this point,” Hudson said.
City residents Joy Johnson and Walt Heinecke also weighed in, saying that the community has not been provided accountability or transparency in the wake of the violent Aug. 12 rally, during which one person died and dozens were injured.
While the dockets in Charlottesville Circuit Court are busy for the months of November and December, Fogel said he is hopeful the matter can go before a judge before the end of the year. He said the lawsuit would not interrupt Heaphy’s review unless so ordered by a judge.
Fogel added that it is the responsibility of city officials and the Charlottesville Police Department to inform citizens about what happened during the rally — information that should not come from an intermediary such as Heaphy.
“They know why Fourth Street was open, they know how that happened, they know what their plans were, why they didn’t intervene in the fights and attacks being made — they know the answers,” Fogel said. “The question all along has been, ‘Why won’t they tell us?’”