What Was More “Political”: Heaphy’s Firing or His Hiring?

Tim Heaphy, pictured in 2017. Photo credit: The Cavalier Daily.

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ramped up the mainstream media’s criticism of Attorney General Jason Miyares in a story published over the weekend. The headline: “Jason Miyares removed the head lawyer at 3 state colleges. Professors and Democrats say he’s wielding excessive influence.”

The initial wave of Miyares-critical stories, most prominently in The Washington Post and The New York Times, focused on the firing of Tim Heaphy as counsel at the University of Virginia. The articles suggested that the removal was an act of political retribution for Heaphy’s service, while on unpaid leave from UVa, as lead investigator into the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol last year.

That charge has dissipated in the face of vehement denials from Miyares, the total absence of any corroborating evidence, and the fact that Heaphy was not singled out for removal. His counterparts at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University were sacked as well, suggesting that perhaps a different motive was at play.

Whatever that motive is, the RTD found someone to say it was “political.” Reporter Eric Kolenich quotes quotes Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor: “Universities need to be free, open places and not be politicized by the appointment of counsel who are loyal to the attorney general but not loyal to the university.”

Kolenich explores the possibility that the sackings were related to the universities’ vaccination mandates. The story notes that “the job shuffling occurred” as Miyares and Governor Glenn Youngkin sought changes to COVID-19 vaccination mandates at Virginia’s public universities. Youngkin ended the mandates for employees through executive order, and Miyares issued a legal opinion that led to colleges reversing their mandates for students.

Wrote Kolenich: “The firing and removal of college counsels reinforce the fact that state colleges have little recourse to oppose an administration, unlike K-12 school districts, which sued Youngkin over mask requirements.”

I don’t know the full story of why Miyares canned the university counsels at UVa, GMU and VCU, but I’m pretty sure the issue wasn’t vaccination mandates. Neither Heaphy nor his GMU and VCU counterparts spoke out publicly against the mandate reversals, and Kolenich offers zero evidence that the fired counsels were an obstacle to the implementation of the new policies.

All Kolenich offers is conjecture and boilerplate charges that Republicans are playing politics, like this quote from Delegate Mark Kean, D-Fairfax: “The message you’re sending is you better watch out. If you don’t, the governor will yank you or the attorney general will yank you.”

Kolenich played the old reporter’s trick of quoting “the other side” of the story, and then totally ignoring it as he built his narrative. In this instance, he quoted Miyares spokesperson Victoria Lacivita as saying that it’s common practice for an incoming administration to appoint staff who share the philosophical and legal approach of the new attorney general.

His narrative then dismissed her point in the very next paragraph: “But it’s not common,  professors and lawyers countered, for the changes to be made in such overtly political ways.”

Those professors and lawyers don’t know what they’re talking about.

Quoted previously in The Washington Post, LaCivita said that Heaphy had been a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’ predecessor, Mark Herring, had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.” Furthermore, she said that the decision to fire Heaphy had come after reviewing legal decisions “made over the last couple of years.” The RTD made no effort to square these statements with its description of what happened.

Heaphy was appointed university counsel by then-Attorney General Mark Herring in August 2018. He had impressive credentials. He had graduated from UVa with an English major, then earned a degree from the law school. He had been a former U.S. Attorney, partner of the Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, and author of the definitive report on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. But he had no experience as a university counsel or special background in the kinds of legal issues that counsels deal with.

“With his deep roots in Virginia, in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia, Tim is well-positioned to help President [Jim] Ryan and the Board of Visitor implement their vision, and to help the University continue to grow and thrive,” said Herring in announcing the appointment at the time. Note what Herring is saying here: Heaphy’s main qualification was his ability to help Ryan implement his vision.

When Ryan assumed the presidency at UVa in August 2018, he moved to install his own team of loyalists, as university presidents are inclined to do. Heaphy, whose attendance at the UVa school of law overlapped with Ryan’s time there, was one of his first appointments. I have heard that Heaphy and Ryan knew each other well during their law school days, but I have been unable to confirm that from a source with first-hand knowledge.

Roscoe Roberts

Virginia’s Office of Attorney General maintains an Education Section, and it was customary for university counsels to be filled by individuals who had worked in that office. That was the case for the man Heaphy replaced: Roscoe Roberts. Roberts had served in the position since 2014. In a press release announcing Roberts’ appointment, Herring stressed his qualifications as an employee of the AG’s office:

“I am confident that Roscoe is the right person to take on this role,” he said. “His many years of work and leadership on higher education and health care issues in the Office of Attorney General make him uniquely qualified to meet the needs of a world-class university operating an expansive medical center. He is inheriting a great team and a great legacy from Paul Forch, whose four decades of service to the Office of Attorney General, including nearly 20 years as counsel at the University of Virginia, have been exemplary.”

Roberts had served previously as legal counsel at Virginia State University, James Madison University, Christopher Newport University, and George Mason University. A 1975 graduate of Wake Forest University, he would have been about 64 years old when he was replaced. Upon his departure, the UVa press release noted little about his retirement except that he had served “a distinguished career in public service.”

Heaphy did not have the customary credentials for the position, so Ryan had to push hard for his appointment, I am told by a source who would know. Whether he worked through Herring or the Governor’s Office, the source could not say. It is likely that Ryan, a neophyte to Virginia politics having just come from the school of education at Harvard, would have needed help in getting the appointment. One theory is that Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III, Rector of the Board of Visitors and a key player in hiring Ryan, intervened personally. Conner, a mergers-and-acquisitions attorney with D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, was extremely well connected in the Virginia Democratic Party. (He had donated $10,000 to Tim Kaine in his run for governor.) But I must emphasize that Conner’s involvement is pure conjecture.

However it happened, according to my source, “there were a lot of people really pissed off in the AG’s office when this appointment was made.”

In the chain of command, Heaphy technically reported to the attorney general, not the university president. But Heaphy, in this interpretation of events, effectively reported to Ryan. When Miyares replaced Herring, the long knives came out. Career employees in the AG’s office were well informed of Heaphy’s legal rulings over the past four years, and they told Miyares what they knew. After announcing the decision to replace Heaphy, LaCivita explained vaguely, “The attorney general wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university.”

Not the philosophy of a university. That is a not-so-subtle reference to UVa’s leftward lurch under Ryan, especially on issues related to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

I asked LaCivita about the circumstances of Heaphy’s findings and which of his legal findings the AG found to be problematic, but she declined to provide details. “OAG staff attorneys cannot talk to the press as a policy and we are not commenting on this story any further.”

The position of university counsel has not been filled yet. The Office of the Attorney General is advertising the job opening on its website. The university counsel, says the posting, will head a 10-person legal team plus support staff in Charlottesville but will “serve the Attorney General under the direction of the Chief of the Education Section.”

The current senior assistant attorney general and chief of the education section is Deb Love. Her recently retired predecessor, Ronald C. Forehand, worked in the AG’s office for nearly 28 years.

I have told the story of what really happened in Heaphy’s firing as best I understand it. I fully concede that parts of it are poorly sourced. But I’m confident I’m a lot closer to the mark than the RTD. What’s’ more, I’m honest and upfront about what I know for certain and what I don’t know. If readers can help me confirm, deny, amplify or modify the version of events presented here, please contact me at jabacon@baconsrebellion.com.

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34 responses to “What Was More “Political”: Heaphy’s Firing or His Hiring?”

  1. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    PTL that the Alternate Media Stream [AMS] is alive and well to counter the massive out and overreach of the MSM. Congrats to JAB for identifying all the possible brickbats to be tossed in this dispute.

    However, would it have been too much to add a sentence or two about the tradition of academic freedom related to political appointments at VA institutions of higher education? While brickbat tossing may be enjoyable, the insidious relationship of politics to higher education is not.

    1. VaNavVet Avatar

      I do like AMS for the WSJ, Fox, OAN, Newsmax, and the like. It makes it pretty clear that they are not mainstream, but it does sound a little like the alt-right.

      1. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        TY. Carping about which media stream said what is pointless. Quote ’em and let readers decide. I read Fox often just to adjust my reading glasses. A day or so ago, Fox headline stated TN Woman Jailed for Fraudulent Voting. Fact was she never voted only attempted to register. If folks on this blog want to cite to the ASM, fine.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    When I saw the RTD headline for this story, I was surprised. It’s old news. I did not read the story; it had the feel of being “filler” for a slow Sunday news day. The RTD did itself no favor in printing this non-story.

    The AG can hire and fire whomever he wants.

    The post of the head counsel for UVa., or any other higher ed institution, for that matter, should be filled by an attorney experienced in higher ed legal issues and with the AG’s office. If Ryan desires Heaphy’s advice, legal or otherwise, he can always hire him as an assistant to the President.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      God NO, that would burn the bacon.

  3. VaNavVet Avatar

    Delegate Mark Kean could have been talking to the teen that “Team Youngkin” just went after on twitter for retweeting a Richmond NPR story. The Gov had to apologize and once again the Commonwealth is in the national news with the country saying Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I can’t remember, how many IQ points did I estimate the other day that Twitter removed when you open it? About 20-40 was it?

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        20-40 and I linked Eric The Halfwits twitter account for a show of that fact.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Oscar Oscar Charlie

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    Every administration, be it national, state or local, normally makes significant personnel changes when it replaces the preceding administration. Are woke journalists really this incredibly stupid or has wokeness just rotted out their brains? Working in a call center making robocalls is more prestigious than being an MSM journalist.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Well yes and 99 times out of 100, it’s quiet not loud unless of course someone wants it loud.

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        Of course, politicians make noise whenever they feel it’s to their advantage.

        The MSM make noise because the profession, with some exceptions has the ethical standards of the old folks at Pravda.

        I read a pathetic op-ed by some former journalist who is now a professor at one college or another. He wrote complaining about GOP gerrymandering, sheepishly admitting that (surprise) Democrats do it too. But he only mentions some GOP-controlled states. It’s worse when the GOP does it. Why? He never quite explains that.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          yes… but.. you can replace someone quietly or you can make a lot of noise when you do it – and the difference is your own motivations, no?

          I think the AG made noise about this – on purpose or perhaps incompetently – either way it happened because the AG intended it.

        2. It was the press that started making noise about Mr. Heaphy”s firing, not the AG.

          The AG fired the guy. The AG’s office issued a press release announcing the firing. There is nothing “noisy” about that. It is standard protocol.

          When the lib-tard press started screaming about the firing, loony leftists attacked the AG’s office for being “noisy” about the firing.

          Of course, if the AG had fired Mr. Heaphy without issuing a press release, the loony leftists would be complaining about his lack of transparency and attacking him for trying to “hide” his actions.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    RE: ” Quoted previously in the Washington Post, LaCivita said that Heaphy had been a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’ predecessor Mark Herring had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.” Furthermore, she said that the decision to fire Heaphy had come after reviewing legal decisions “made over the last couple of years.”
    ” After announcing the decision to replace Heaphy, LaCivita explained vaguely, “The attorney general wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university.”
    ” I asked LaCivita about the circumstances of Heaphy’s findings and which of his legal findings the AG found problematic, but she declined to provide details. “OAG staff attorneys cannot talk to the press as a policy and we are not commenting on this story any further.”

    hmm …. well…. does sound like the AG had problems with Heaphy.

    But they just could not bring themselves to say with clarity what they were and decided to let others speculate – which they certainly have.

    I think the AG certainly can clear it up if he wishes.

    And really, if he wanted someone gone – there are a lot of less ‘noisy’ ways of accomplishing it , unless that was your intent to start with.


    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Must be really cold outside. The snowflakes are whining, eh Larry?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well yes, they whine when they’re not grievance-mongering…

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    OMG, Ron Forehand is still running the higher ed section? That’s who can tell all the tales over the years if he would talk, but of course he won’t. As I’ve said before, the U-counsel jobs are plush and coveted. The tension of who they really work for, the school admin or the AG back in Richmond, is nothing new and probably will never go away. The hypocrisy of the Democrats and the media out to destroy Youngkin is boundless and shameless. I know folks Herring canned for reasons other than “cause.”

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      And rapidly catching the hypocrisy of the Republicans.

    2. Apparently, Forehand has retired. Deb Love has replaced him. I based my original reporting on an AG roster that hasn’t been updated and double checked it by consulting Forehand’s LinkedIn profile… which also hasn’t been updated. Live and learn.

  7. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Hey…did anybody mention that Heaphy was US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia…appointed by the Anointed One, BHO?
    Do you know how many BHO retreads are currently lavishly employed by UVA? (It seems nearly everyone)
    If Jim Ryan and Heaphy want to fundamentally transform UVA, what’s that to transforming the whole nation?
    And the quote from Delegate Keam…where did I see that name…Hmmm…
    He couldn’t be the same Delegate who requested the obviously wrong opinion by Mark Herring that UVA et al could mandate vaccines, was he?
    And for all you medical tyranny lovers, the federal law is superior to Virginia law. The jabjabjab is still all EUA. EUA federal law specifically says accept or refuse. Besides the constitutional and medical ethics and Nuremberg Code arguments… And Ryan and Heaphy and BOV lawyers like Whitt Clement and Rusty Conner (and any 2nd year law student at Podunk U Law) know about federal supremacy. Miyares’ reversal was on narrow statutory interpretation grounds, and a good one at that. But we never should have gotten there.
    I was general counsel for a public company. My client was the company. Not the CEO, but I realize I may have been unusual in that regard. Heaphy should have stepped in on some of the many things, but he and Ryan are fellow traveler soulmates.
    Even worse than Heaphy’s failure to check Tailgunner Jim Ryan now with his McCarthyite DEI litmus tests is the BOV. Where are you? Honor system? Jefferson as a legitimate giant of history? Real free speech?
    They should all resign…if they had any honor!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I thought BO appointed this guy: ” John Palmer Fishwick Jr. (born 1957) is an attorney in Roanoke, Virginia who served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

      Born in Roanoke, Virginia, John is a graduate of Harvard College. He graduated in 1979. Fishwick furthered his education at Washington and Lee University, graduating from the law school in 1983.

      Fishwick worked in private practice for nearly thirty years before being nominated by President Barack Obama to the position of U.S. Attorney.”

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        On October 13, 2009, Mr. Heaphy, a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University Of Virginia School Of Law, was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. He was sworn in by then Chief United States District Judge James Jones in Abingdon, VA on October 16, 2009, and has served continuously since that date. Attorney General Holder attended his ceremonial Investiture as United States Attorney on December 4, 2009, in Charlottesville, VA.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          okay, so both guys appointed by BO and Heaphy preceded this guy and that’s relevant how?

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            He’s a true believing Leftist, not qualified to be University counsel other than a fellow traveler with Jim Ryan.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            appointed by POTUS like all are , Trump appointed a bunch also, no? In fact, he fired a bunch also. no?

          3. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Remember the Costanza Rule. Prior to Slick Willie (should have been a hint since that is what his friends called him), the normal practice was for a President to replace US Attorneys as their 4 year terms came up. Slick Willie fired all 93. It is thought to cover up what the US Attorney was doing in Arkansas. Yet, when Dubya fired 7, all Hell broke loose in the opposition press (before it grew into The Resistance!) People who are in the executive serve at the will of the executive, except for Donald Trump, when the executive branch agencies work against the person elected by the people. Heaphy was appointed. He can be removed. Grow up. The whole BOV (and Jim Ryan and his lieutenants and probably all the Deans) needs to be fired. So don’t get your panties in a wad…

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            you’re going back how many years and why?

          5. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            To explain why your crying that Miyares acted as he is allowed by his job to do is typical Leftist hypocritical, situational BS.
            Gerrymandering is evil (unless it helps Dems)
            Trump/Youngkin/Miyares is an authoritarian monster (but it is OK when we do it)

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            No one was crying that he was a monster – just that he CHOSE to perform an OVERT political act when he could have chosen to accomplish the same thing – much more quietly, without all the fru fru.

            How does he want to be perceived as AG? Apparently, according to youse guys – a political warrior, no?

          7. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Ah, a politician acted…politically! Cuz Gov Blackface and LG MeToo and Stupid AG Kurtis Blow Herring all became forgivable when Kirk Cox would have been Gov, and it wasn’t political cuz Larry sez. And Herring’s obviously wrong vax opinion wasn’t political. And NoVa masking isn’t political. Sorry, Lar. The religion of Dems is politics – everything to the perpetually aggrieved is political.

          8. LarrytheG Avatar

            you can take an action that is political without going out of your way to rub it in the faces of those opposed. There is a difference. Ya’ll don’t like the actions of Northam/Herring but the fact is they did not behave in a in-your-face overt way that this guy has done. Ya’ll want to do this.. you want it to be uber visible and overt.. right? Over the longer term, this is a fail… as more and more folks reject that kind of aggressive and adversarial behavior – not unlike what we saw with Cuccinelli… and his ‘investigations” of college professors. The wacadoodles love it but politically it fails – you lose even some supporters.

          9. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Ok Larry. You’re insane. Like it when your side dishes it out and cries like a baby when opposed.
            Also, please learn how to spell wackadoodles. We wackadoodles like to be properly acknowledged.

  8. Merchantseamen Avatar

    Remember. In Va you can be let for no reason at all. It happens everyday. At one point you got fired if you di not get an experimental jab. No second chance, no unemployment, no exception.

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