Virginia attorney general fires university attorneys, including one who is Jan. 6 investigator

The office defended the firings, saying it is common for attorneys general to appoint counsel with similar viewpoints.

Updated: January 24, 2022 - 7:06am

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Virginia's new Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares fired lawyers from the University of Virginia and George Mason University, declaring his office is looking to appoint counsel "to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university."

University of Virginia attorney Democrat Tim Heaphy was among the roughly 30 staffers let go by Miyares after he took office earlier this month, The Washington Post reports. Heaphy was on leave from the university in order to work as the lead investigator for the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita said Heaphy was a "controversial" hire, and his firing had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 panel. 

In a statement obtained by The Associated Press, the University of Virginia said leaders were thankful for Heaphy's "outstanding service" and the school was "disappointed to see it come to an end."

George Mason University counsel Democrat Brian Walther was also fired, and LaCivita told The Washington Post that it was due to him having a different "philosophy and legal approach" than Miyares. 

He had worked at George Mason University since 2017, and The Associated Press reports that upon his departure school said: "the Mason community is grateful to Brian for his work and his many years of service."

"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."

Virginia Democratic State Sen. Scott Surovell tweeted on Sunday: "Firing General Counsels at in-state universities is unprecedented in the history of our Commonwealth - we normally leave counsel hiring decisions up to our universities and will make it very hard to hire the best talent to help guide our crown jewels."

LaCivita defended the firings, saying that it is common for attorneys general to appoint counsel with similar viewpoints. She did not state whether any other attorneys at Virginia public schools had been fired. 

Miyares was elected in 2021 and sworn in on Jan. 15, 2022. He is serving with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) following a sweeping Republican victory in Virginia.