To the Editor:
I write in reaction to an article published in the Alexandria Gazette October 24 edition title “Conflict of Interest?” by writer Michael Lee Pope. The article discusses the hiring of the McGuire Woods law firm by the City of Alexandria to provide legal services in connection with the waterfront development.
Let me say initially that I am not a resident of the City of Alexandria, I don’t have an office there and I have no business interest in any of the proposed developments.
I have practiced law in northern Virginia for more than 30 years, I have served as an elected official in Herndon for six years, I have served on various boards and commissions my entire adult life. I have acted and testified as an expert on legal fees and ethics in numerous courts in Virginia. I have served on the local legal ethics committee, acting as chairman for two years. I believe my background enables me to comment on the issues raised in the article.
The first comment in the article that troubled me was the quote from my friend Barbara Beach. I have known Barbara for 20 years and worked with her when she was the Herndon Town Attorney. She questioned the hiring of McGuire Woods but states that “There is no question that McGuire Woods is a good firm …” That is why they were hired. I don’t think the Alexandria City Council would want to hire a firm that is not conversant with the issues and highly capable of performing the legal work needed.
Next, the article describes some concern among some people that a conflict waiver was signed by the city attorney. I would have been more surprised if one was not signed. Such waivers are routine when multiple parties may be involved. Furthermore, given the volatility of the waterfront development issues, it is prudent for McGuire Woods to request such a waiver. If, in the future, the composition of the City Council were to change, the new council may want to claim a conflict, even though none exists. It is just good practice to have a waiver.
There were comments in the article that some residents are opposed to having the city pay for attorneys to fight against the residents. I suppose the best answer is that elections have consequences. McGuire Woods represents the city as directed by its elected and appointed officials. The City Council has decided in favor of the waterfront development and the attorneys they hire will represent that position.
I understand the waterfront development has been a difficult issue for the city to work through. However, the issue of the development should not be clouded by misinformation or a lack of understanding of the role of the city’s attorneys.
Michael L. O’Reilly
The O'Reilly Law Firm