Budget and Finance Subcommittee Interviews Counsel Applicants

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee June 28 interviewed three respondents to its solicitation for partisan legal counsel for the commission and then, after discussing them in executive session, moved forward on making a decision.

Subcommittee members spent about thirty minutes interviewing each legal team via Zoom, using a list of questions that commission members submitted in advance and that was posted online before the interviews began. Subcommittee members were permitted to ask additional questions, and the respondents were permitted to make statements at the end of their interviews.

On a unanimous vote, the committee approved a motion to recommend to the full commission that the sole Republican applicant be hired, subject to competitive negotiations with the firm. The motion referenced “Schaerr Jaffe,” but the proposal was the combined work of two firms, the Washington law firm of Schaerr Jaffe and the Atlanta law firm firm of Taylor English. Christopher Bartolomucci of Schaerr Jaffe and Bryan Tyson of Taylor English, who submitted their law firms’ joint proposal, represented their firms in the interview.

On the Democratic side, there were two proposals and the subcommittee moved to enter into competitive negotiations with both firms and to complete its review of their proposals, based on the scoring sheet that was developed for evaluating the responses. The scores  will be part of the public record after they are reported. The commission received proposals from two lawyers, J. Gerald Hebert and Kareem Crayton.

All of the firms responded to several questions, including whether they had ever represented any entity or person in a Virginia redistricting matter, whether they had ever had an attorney-client privilege with any member of the commission and whether they would seek to represent any commission member or partisan caucus in Virginia on a redistricting matter in the future. In addition, the lawyers were asked whether they understood that they would be asked to serve the needs of the full commission. The lawyers were also asked about their workloads during the months when the commission would need their services.

Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) asked the applicants for their “perspective and interpretation of the Voting Rights Act and how would you advise us to ensure that racial and ethnic populations can elect candidates of their choice when they are united in support for a candidate?”

Commission Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican, explored the lawyers’ experience with working with lawyers who offered differing opinions. James Abrenio, a commission member who sat in on the subcommittee’s deliberations, sought the lawyers’ input on the question of whether the commission should hire professionals to help it draw the maps.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) asked all of the applicants to state who won the 2020 presidential election. All agreed that President Biden had won the race and that there was no “reasonable legal basis” for challenging the outcome.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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