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Northam Administration Hits Back in Parole Board Controversy

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The Northam administration defended its position in the developing parole board controversy during a news conference Tuesday, saying there was a political element to a recent lawsuit. 
 

 
 
 
Clark Mercer, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, defended the administration the day after the filing of the lawsuit, which alleged officials called a meeting with the intent of intimidating investigators with the Office of the State Inspector General.

Last year the Office of the State Inspector General investigated the board’s decision to grant eight people parole. Investigators reported the board didn’t follow its own guidelines.
Then in late February, Richmond’s CBS affiliate reported that it obtained an early draft of the report, which said said that members of the parole board falsified records and altered meeting minutes.

Jennifer Moschetti, an investigator in the inspector general’s office, filed the lawsuit against Michael Westfall, the State Inspector General, seeking to reinstate her to her previous level of employment. The lawsuit says Moschetti is on “pre-disciplinary leave” pending an investigation of alleged misconduct.
 
The lawsuit alleges that the office of the attorney general redacted and edited a report on the Virginia Parole Board’s process in granting parole to the eight men, including one who was convicted of killing a Richmond Police Officer in 1979. It also says she and the inspector general were intimidated during a meeting with Northam administration officials, which included Mercer and Brian Moran, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. 

 
Both the attorney general and the administration have denied these allegations. Mercer and Northam characterized the political stakes of the controversy as being tied to opposition to parole more generally Tuesday. He said that Moschetti’s lawyer, who sued the administration and Democratic lawmakers on other occasions, was a political actor.

 
"Of all of the thousands and thousands of lawyers one might retain on this very, very serious issue to retain an overtly political stakeholder is disappointing,” Mercer said.

 
Republican lawmakers raised the issue during the General Assembly Session and have called for parole board leadership to be fired, or impeached.

 
Senators from both parties, Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and John Bell (D-Loudoun), have called for a select General Assembly committee to investigate the parole board. 

 
This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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