Category Archives: Scandals

Virginia’s Lt. Gov. and Emmett Till

Justin Fairfax

by Kerry Dougherty

Justin Fairfax is a deeply unserious man with an inflated sense of his own importance.

On Tuesday night, as he shared a Virginia State University stage with four other Democrats who are competing for the nomination for governor, Fairfax demonstrated that he has no sense of proportion and little understanding of history, and will say almost anything to boost his chances of becoming Virginia’s next governor.

Fairfax is apparently still smarting over the fact that most of his fellow Democrats demanded his resignation after two women — one a Duke classmate of his, another a political science professor — accused him of sexual assault.

Following Democratic tradition begun by Ralph Northam and continued by Andrew Cuomo, Fairfax proclaimed his innocence and stubbornly stayed in office.

But on the debate stage he lashed out at all of his opponents, especially Terry McAuliffe. Continue reading

“Drunk with Power”

by Kerry Dougherty

Drunk with power.

That might as well be the Northam administration motto.

Those three words reportedly appear in a chain of internal emails among parole board members and staff that was obtained by WTVR CBS-6 Richmond.

CBS claims it obtained internal Virginia Parole Board emails detailing their deliberations.

“Dated April 2020, one showed then Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett telling a parolee his early discharge certificate was “not normal protocol.”

Another instance showed an email chain between Bennett and board employee Laura Hall, who at the time was going through a report of everyone in the Commonwealth on parole supervision. Continue reading

An Important Challenge to Employees of the Commonwealth

by James C. Sherlock

I ask the employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be agents for its positive change. I will address you directly.

The issue is state readiness, or rather lack of it, for the COVID epidemic. You are in the best position to know that your agency was surprised and overwhelmed when COVID struck.

It did not need to be that way.

I have written here extensively of the failure of state departments to prepare for a pandemic flu emergency as they were directed to do by the state emergency operations plan published in 2012. Those directed preparations included planning, training and exercises that involved you, the professional staff of state agencies.

Many of you know that none of that happened in your organizations.

I filed complaints with the Office of the State Inspector General who is employed specifically to investigate such issues. But I think the complaints of an outsider will go nowhere.

The fault for lack of preparation lies with so broad a swath of the executive department of the state that only a high volume of inside complaints will drive the investigation and thus the changes that are necessary.

I am going to ask you as employees to engage to fix the system from within. Continue reading

Confessions of a Virginia Whistleblower

by James C. Sherlock

State Inspector General Mike Westfall

I decided last week in a paroxysm of good citizenship to contact the Virginia Inspector General (IG) to report wrongdoing by state officials.

I have a considerable list centered around the failure of many state officials to carry out their longstanding, formally-assigned duties pre-COVID to plan for a pandemic emergency and exercise those plans to mitigate the effects of such an occurrence.  

My complaints are based on Virginia Executive Order No. 42  Promulgation of the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan and Delegation of Authority. It was issued by Governor McDonnell and reissued by Governor Northam.

An actionable component of that Order is Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical) was published in August of 2012 (the Annex).  It contained prescient predictions about the course of a pandemic and directed specific agencies to prepare and exercise specific plans. Despite the clear language of the Annex, the plans were not written, personnel were not trained, exercises could not be conducted and systems were not tested under simulated stresses of a pandemic.

Those failures cost unnecessarily severe losses of life, suffering and economic distress among the citizens.  

Continue reading

OSIG: Virginia’s Watchdog for Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Number of cases opened by OSIG’s Investigations Unit.

by James A. Bacon

The Northam administration is embroiled in its biggest scandal since the blackface blunder: a flap over an Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) report into the allegedly improper release of prisoners by the Virginia Parole Board.

Here’s what went down: OSIG wrote highly critical draft findings of the parole board… which were leaked to the Attorney General’s Office… which allegedly redacted and watered down the report… which was released to the public… inspiring senior Northam administration officials to summon Inspector Michael Westfall and investigator Jennifer Moschetti for a round of allegedly hostile questioning… which prompted Moschetti to file a lawsuit alleging that the meeting “was intended to intimidate the State Inspector General and the investigators tasked with making fact findings related to members of the Parole Board.”

I hope I got that right. Read the Associated Press summary here.

That got me to thinking. What does the OSIG do? Continue reading

Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan Was Never Exercised


by James C. Sherlock

As we suspected, Virginia did not exercise its Pandemic Emergency Plan from the time it was published in 2012 until COVID-19 struck.

I received the following response today to a FOIA request I sent to the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Emergency Management:

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) received your February 13, 2021, email regarding a document request. In that request, you seek:

“Existing VDEM records of Virginia state, regional, and local participation in the National Exercise Program since 2012 at every level of training and exercises that addressed Infectious Disease and Biological Incidents.”

VDEM does not have any documentation that meets the requirements of your request. As a result, pursuant to Va. Code § 2.2-3704.B.3, VDEM notes that no records or data exists in response to your request.

Is “oops” a good enough response for the Governor? It appears so.

Sentara and the Judge

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Feb. 23 at 2:15 pm

In an ongoing series of reports, Ray Locker, enterprise and investigative editor of the Checks and Balances Project, has exposed a story with far-reaching implications.

Norfolk Circuit Court Chief Judge Mary Jane Hall sat in judgment on a case, Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r,  in which Sentara was an included defendant.  

It appears from that reporting that she could have recused herself for two reasons:

  • prior to her appointment to the bench Judge Hall not only had represented Sentara for years in another COPN case; but also
  • the judge’s co-attorney on that previous COPN case, Jamie B. Martin of Williams Mullin, was Sentara’s attorney in Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r.

From Mr. Locker’s first article:

The Virginia Canons of Judicial Conduct says this about judicial impartiality:

“(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned”

Further under Canon 2,

“The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity and impartiality is impaired.”

My own additional research into published Norfolk Circuit Court opinions shows that Judge Hall sat in judgment on cases in that court involving Sentara as well as on Chesapeake Hosp. Auth. v. State Health Comm’r.  This case was filed in Chesapeake Circuit Court.

The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, who is charged with overseeing judicial conduct, assigned the case to Judge Hall

Chief Justice Lemons of the Virginia Supreme Court asked Judge Hall to sit by designation in Chesapeake in place of the judges of the First Judicial Circuit (Chesapeake) and hear the case. She accepted. He made the appointment on July 31, 2018.

There would be three possible reasons to import a judge:

  1. Chief Justice Lemons assessed that there were no judges on the Chesapeake Circuit with the experience to hear a COPN case; or
  2. he assessed that the Chesapeake Circuit judges were conflicted or could have been considered so; or
  3. The Chesapeake Circuit had more cases than judges at that point.

There is no indication in the record of why Judge Hall was imported in this case.

Continue reading

VMI Update: The WaPo Makes Another Sleazy Insinuation

by James A. Bacon

In the early stages of the Barnes & Thornburg investigation into racism at the Virginia Military Institute, there was some contention over how the inquiry should be handled. Initially, VMI administrators asked for its lawyers to observe investigators’ interviews of faculty, staff and students. Barnes & Thornburg pushed back, saying the lawyers’ presence would be intimidating. The disagreement erupted into public view when the investigative team published its interim findings earlier this month.

VMI has since backed off, and in its latest article on the racism controversy the Washington Post quotes anonymous faculty sources as saying that they have spoken to Barnes & Thornburg and felt no pressure from school officials.

So, the question arises: Why did VMI officials back off? Did they do so voluntarily, or did they feel coerced? Here’s what the Washington Post had to say:

After one state lawmaker suggested that VMI could lose some of its $19.3 million of state funding if it did not cooperate, the college’s interim superintendent, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Winsreleased a statement encouraging students and teachers to come forward. He shared a designated email and phone number for the firm’s investigators. Pledging the college’s commitment to confidentiality, he promised that all members of the VMI community “will be treated equitably and without fear of retaliation at every stage of this vital process.” Continue reading

Business as Usual in the Virginia Senate – “Dominion Dick” Saslaw Delivers

Sen. Dick Saslaw (D)

by James C. Sherlock

Associate Press headline Feb. 15: “Virginia Senate Democrats kill electric rate reform bills.”

Fish gotta swim, Senator Richard L. “Dominion Dick” Saslaw gotta be Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Virginia Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Saslaw has received nearly a half million dollars in campaign donations from Dominion Energy and its previous CEO, Thomas Farrell. The Chairman literally would be cheap at ten times the price.

From the AP:

“The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday swiftly killed the last of more than half a dozen bills this session that aimed to reform Virginia’s system of electric utility rate review, which is seen by Wall Street investors as favorable to the utilities and by critics as an example of legislative capture by companies with an outsize influence over the General Assembly.”

Dominion sweeping all before it actually gives some sense of stability to the General Assembly.

Below is a list of campaign donations by Dominion Energy and Tom Farrell to the Senators who voted with Dominion on the closest vote, 8-7 to table Virginia HB1132 Electric utility regulation; initial triennial review, requirements, sponsored by Del. Jay Jones (D). Continue reading

All According to Plan – the Biggest Government Scandal in Virginia History

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia Mercury published  an excellent article on the difficulties being encountered in Virginia in scheduling COVID shots.

But who could have anticipated the need? Who indeed.

This story is part of the single biggest government scandal in Virginia history and the press is either ignorant of the underlying issue or has ignored it. I think ignorance is more likely. Certainly Governor Northam’s executive branch made every effort to hide it from them.

I say the executive branch because I firmly believe — and hope really — the Governor himself never had a clue.

The now-hidden-from-public-view Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Operations Plan, Hazard-Specific Annex #4 Pandemic Influenza Response (Non-Clinical), Virginia Department of Emergency Management August 2012 (the Plan) required planning and exercise of a vaccine distribution plan and much more.

Never happened.

The Plan specified planning, exercise and operational responsibilities for
the following executive branch organizations: Continue reading

Holding Richmond Public Schools Accountable — Part I

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here the failures of the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in educating its economically disadvantaged children, as well as the abysmal performance of Black children in its schools.  

I intend to help readers understand how it manages to fail repeatedly even with major federal funding as guardrails and state oversight officially in place.

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) such as RPS and its schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet state academic standards.

It is useful to drill down into the details of that program so that readers can understand how every school district in Virginia is supposed to plan and execute the education of poor kids to improve their chances of success.

The question that will remain when I finish will be accountability.  

How does a system like the Richmond Public Schools continue to submit similar paperwork every year and every year fail to meet its stated goals? Where is the accountability? Why do the people of Richmond put up with it?  Continue reading

Basic Child Literacy Cannot Be too Much to Ask of Richmond City Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Half of Black 4th graders in Richmond public schools couldn’t read in 2019. That is not OK.

It is way past time to demand both better performance and accountability. Clearly neither the city of Richmond nor the Commonwealth has done that effectively.

So I have filed formal complaints with the federal government to see if the Departments that provide federal money to the Richmond City Public School District can establish accountability for how all of that money has been spent.

Jason Kamras currently serves as the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). He has first-rate credentials — National Teacher of the Year in 2005, undergraduate Princeton, masters in education from Harvard. Worked in leadership positions in D.C. Public Schools before coming to Richmond.

He is the highest-paid superintendent in Richmond history at $250,000 annually. His initial three-year contract was slated to expire this summer.  He just received a 4-year extension on a split 6-3 vote by the Richmond School Board.

The performance of Mr. Kamras’ Richmond School District is cataclysmically bad.   Continue reading

VMI, Investigators Sparring Over Rules of Racism Investigation

by James A. Bacon

Barnes & Thornburg LLP, the special investigator selected to probe racism at Virginia Military Institute, released its first progress report today, as required by contract. The law firm has not had enough time to draw any conclusions, but the report does describe the testy relationship between the firm and VMI administrators as the investigation unfolds.

VMI has hired its own law firm as counsel, and disagreements have arisen over how to conduct the investigation. The two parties have sparred over VMI’s request that legal counsel attend an administrative briefing and sit in on interviews of faculty, staff, and cadets. Also, Barnes & Thornburg has sought assurances that individuals speaking to investigators will not be retaliated against.

“The Team firmly believes that the presence of VMI representatives will undermine the independence and effectiveness of the investigation, and may well deter the cadets and faculty being interviewed from being as forthcoming as they might otherwise be,” states the report.

It’s not surprising that VMI administrators are feeling defensive considering the origins of the inquiry. The investigation arose from a series of Washington Post articles accusing the military academy of “relentless racism.” Decrying what he called the “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism,” Northam announced in October that he would hire an independent outside investigator to probe the charges. To some VMI officials and alumni, it appeared as if the fix was in. Continue reading

Virginia’s Legendary Corruption Blocks Antitrust Enforcement

Great Seal of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Readers of this blog have indicated an unquenchable appetite for information about and discussion of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law and its administration.

This essay informs on the negative impacts of the COPN law and the Virginia Antitrust Act (the Act) itself on the enforcement of antitrust laws against Virginia’s regional hospital monopolies.

First, know that the business activities that some of Virginia’s hospital monopolies exhibit can already be deemed illegal under both federal and state antitrust laws. But the Act gives them a special dispensation, complicates both state and federal antitrust enforcement and results directly in the in-your-face anticompetitive activities we see every day.

The federal government (and once even Bob McDonnell as Virginia Attorney General) occasionally have intervened to block interstate mergers or in-state acquisitions before they occur, but always within the federal administrative and court systems, and they have never challenged COPN decisions.

But no government agency has ever sued over the business activities of Virginia’s COPN-constructed monopolies. Continue reading

COPN Scores a Kill

by James C. Sherlock

More than eleven months ago I wrote an essay titled, “The Legal Corruption of (Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need) COPN.” That system needs overhaul, not adjustment, and the people of Hampton Roads need help.  The Governor needs to lead in both efforts.

Today I offer the third in a series (first two here and here ) of essays providing background and potential future solutions to the closure of Bon Secours DePaul Hospital in Norfolk.

This is the story of the public, state-sponsored execution of DePaul and a simultaneous attempt to create a bleak future for Bon Secours in Hampton Roads.

COPN mortally wounded that hospital in 2008. It lasted until now as Sentara gnawed away at it  Its death was announced this past week. Pending is how Bon Secours will look at its future in Hampton Roads.

Continue reading