The Attorney General recently appointed an independent investigator to look at the office of the state Inspector General. This is the latest development in a story that’s been pretty controversial in Virginia politics.
Jeff Bossert: Lets start with the most recent development - who is this investigator?
Jahd Khalil: The investigator is basically a big law firm called Nixon Peabody and it's based in New York. The Attorney General’s office said it looked out of state because Virginia connections might raise questions about objectivity.
Bossert: And what exactly is this law firm going to be investigating?
Khalil: Well, it's an investigation of an investigation. Last summer the Office of the State Inspector General investigated several decisions by the Virginia Parole Board. One of those was the board’s decision to grant parole to a man named Vincent Martin. Martin was convicted of killing a Richmond Police officer and they found that the board didn’t follow some of its guidelines, like notifying Richmond’s prosecutor and the family of the victim. Later on though a draft of the report was leaked and it had more details.
Bossert: And what were those exactly?
Khalil: WTVR, which is the CBS affiliate in Richmond, got a hold of a draft report. Their reporting said that the chair of the parole board at the time asked deputies to falsify reports. So these are the allegations that are out there, but the scope of the new investigation is just looking at the inspector general’s investigation of the parole board only. And Republicans aren’t happy about that.
Bossert: What do they want instead?
Khalil: They really want an investigation of the parole board itself. The allegations about parole board and they way they were doing their job are pretty serious. We are probably going to learn more about that because the inspector general is investigating many more of the board’s decisions and this whole thing has a lawsuit involved, too.
Bossert: A lawsuit? Who is suing who?
Khalil: An investigator with the inspector general’s office is suing her boss, who is the inspector General. She says she was fired so that he could protect his own job. So if you remember that there was the leaked earlier report...after that the lawsuit says that the investigator and the inspector general were brought to the governor’s office where some administration officials interrogated them. The Richmond Times-Dispatch got some audio of that exchange which was about an hour long.
Bossert: So what happened in that meeting?
Khalil: Well one interpretation of the meeting is that it was meant to intimidate investigators and question if they even legally could have done the investigation of the parole board. The Northam administration says nobody was intimidated. I want to add another thing so we don’t miss some important context. In Virginia, people who were convicted of felonies before 1995 are only eligible for parole under extremely limited circumstances. So Democrats are saying that this is more about Republican opposition to parole generally. Governor Northam hasn’t said that directly but he’s implied it.
Bossert: Right, Virginia has abolished the death penalty and tried to get rid of mandatory minimum sentencing. So you’re saying the backdrop to this is a greater controversy over how the Commonwealth changes its criminal justice system.
Khalil: Yeah exactly. And there’s also this question of executive oversight. This is an office that’s supposed to investigate state agencies. And in this leaked audio meeting we have a top administration official questioning whether they can do that in some cases.
Bossert: So what’s next?
Khalil: Well the way things are going there will probably be another surprise development since there have been a lot of leaks in this whole thing. The lawsuit is going to progress too so we might hear something new there. But as far as the independent investigator goes, they have to submit something by June 15.