Uh, Why Does JLARC Scare AG Herring?

Virginia AG Mark Herring

Just what does Mark Herring have to hide?

One of my goals during four years as director of administration for Attorney Generals Mark Earley and Randy Beales was to keep the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission busy somewhere else.   Having JLARC combing through your office asking inconvenient questions is no fun.

But had JLARC shown interest, I don’t think our response would have been quite the whine about partisanship that is coming from the current incumbent in that office.  “No one should be under any illusions about the partisan, election-year motivations that led to this review,” says Attorney General Mark Herring in an AP article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.


The Office of Attorney General is a major state agency, spending major bucks on a host of vital professional services.  It screws up and the consequences can be huge.  It is also a major launching pad for higher office.  The association of the various state AGs, with the acronym NAAG, is widely known as the National Association of Aspiring Governors.  Mark Earley was certainly an aspiring governor, and that was certainly one reason I didn’t want to risk a JLARC review.

But suck it up, Herring.  If you are running the place like a professional law office, keeping the partisanship to a small circle of senior advisers, then the report will be an asset to any future campaign.

This is more personal than I usually get but looking back on my third of a century around the Capitol, those four years were the best job I ever had.  Earley and Beales, in my opinion, did it right.  The job I held was at the center of the political pressure points and I can testify that it takes a thick hide and rigid backbone to tell the partisans no, no, hell no.

The opportunities for mischief are legion.  I may now call JLARC and tell them where to look, tell them to see if things I resisted are now commonplace.  Hiring, firing, salaries, travel approval and other perks can all be abused. The shameless use of office resources for promotional activities is tempting all the time.

My saying no to stuff led to plenty of arguments around the office, arguments I didn’t always win, but I won most and resentments lingered.  It was my job to take the heat so the AG could sail on unperturbed.

When Mark Earley’s time to run for Governor did come, the Mark Warner campaign charged in with a series of FOIA requests that tied me up for much of that year.  The person drafting them was Claire Gastañaga, who had worked in the office and knew what to look for.  I do not recall anything she turned up ending up as a campaign issue, no debate “gotcha” or news release alleging (or worse, proving) mismanagement.

Have you been that careful, General Herring?  When pressured to hire a new lawyer, hire an outside counsel, pay that outside counsel above the state rate, create some bogus “outreach” program that is openly political, have you or your staff resisted?  Said no enough?

It is political considerations which have kept JLARC away from that office for too long.  The Auditor of Public Accounts is in there regularly, but it asks very different questions.  Much mischief can hide in clean books.

Beyond questions about partisan favoritism are the basic issues of whether that law firm, and it is a law firm, is using the best techniques, technology and business practices for that industry.  Had JLARC come in 20 years ago, one of the bullet points would probably have been over reliance on lawyers and too little reliance on legal assistants and other para-professionals.  Still true?

The computer system was state of the art when I left, but is it now?  The AG’s office, as I recall, stayed out of the clutches of the Northrop Grumman contract.

Can’t wait for this JLARC report.

By the way, my old office is still intact in the Pocahontas Building, now used by Senator Jill Vogel.  No plaque yet.  But I was reminded the other day about the real legacy, when an SCC staff person jogged my memory about hiring her.  Didn’t know her politics then, and don’t know them now.  It was a good office when Mark and Randy and I got there, and we left it a bit better.

Prove the same about your term, Herring, and you’re ready for the next step.

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9 responses to “Uh, Why Does JLARC Scare AG Herring?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the things that gives me confidence with the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts is their public schedule of recurring audits so that no one agency or group can complain that they have been targetted and others not!

    I LIKE that approach and I DO understand that from time to time – a one-off audit might be called for – in a bi-partisan way.

    I’ve never quite had that feeling of “purity” with regard to JLARC. It seems to be political at times, at least to me…

  2. Claire Gastanaga. She needs to answer things from more than a year ago with the ACLU. I sent in questions and it was like we’re busy we’re busy. If you are too busy to do anything but ask for money and file FOIA requests, then don’t work for the ACLU. Its supposed to be several things and it isn’t.

  3. I wonder if JLARC is checking if Herring hired an environmental attorney with Michael Bloomberg money laundered through the New York University School of Law.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      There appears to be a wide variety of matters to be looked into with regard to the “public service” of this smiling fellow pictured above.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I just _LOVE_ the new definition of “dark” money… it came from known liberals!

    3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      There are in this world truly important principles and guides. These always concern the rules and wisdom of living that transcend the artificial constructs of mere politics, political parties, strategies, and tactics. Some folks call these principles and guides FIRST THINGS. Whatever their label, and the times within which a generation may consider “their time”, First Things rule.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    There is something fishy about Herring. Send in JLARC.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The role of the AG’s office being a stepping stone to Governor has always irked me, because as Steve points out, there is lots of room for mischief, not least of which is using state resources to further personal political ambitions. Just once, I wish someone would announce, “I’m running for AG because I think it would be a wonderful experience and challenge to head up the Commonwealth’s law firm and I pledge that I will not be a candidate for Governor in the future.” I know; that is a pipe dream, but I can dream, can’t I?

    Because the AG’s office is a complex one and touches many areas of state government, it is a legitimate subject for a JLARC study, probably overdue, apparently thanks to Steve.

    Herring does whine too much, but he has some valid points. If you read the JLARC resolution justifying the study (I did not know they had to justify a study), it does seem as if there are some pre-determined conclusions. Also, it is more than suspicious that the legislative members that make up the Commission (in contrast with the staff) did not see the need to look into the AG’s office when Cooch was there or even in Herring’s first term, rather waiting until he has announced a run for Governor. In the end, the JLARC staff has a reputation for being nonpartisan and, I have confidence that, as Hal Greer stated, they won’t approach the study with the same tone as the authorizing resolution.

  6. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Until the story this morning I had no idea JLARC was doing a study on the AG’s office. I just warded them off with garlic for our term, which ended 17 years ago. I’m sure the JLARC staff will note that the Attorney General like the Governor has far more leeway in some things than other agency heads. Everybody in the office works there at-will. I remember budget language giving us more flexibility with the payroll than other agencies enjoyed.

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