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Dollars for McDonnell

A 20-lawyer head count creates a hefty bill. So who’s paying for the defense of the former governor and first lady?

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Fifteen for him + five for her = 20 lawyers.

That's the head count inside the two defense teams orbiting former first couple Bob and Maureen McDonnell at their federal corruption trial in Richmond.

Who's footing their fees, now estimated by some to reach $2 million?

Not taxpayers, though the troubles of the ex-governor and his wife have cost Virginians close to $800,000 — a public meter that continues to tick.

But first, the private money.

At this stage of the proceedings — win or lose — the McDonnells are responsible for their own legal bills, a heavy load considering the financial straits they've aired in court and the top-shelf talent they've hired.

To help out, around 100 supporters have donated a total of $253,690 — according to the latest Internal Revenue Service filing from the "Restoration Fund" — but the collection is only for Bob McDonnell's defense, not the first lady's, and it won't come close to covering his tab.

The bulk of the McDonnells' attorneys come from three global law firms with Washington offices. Their teams feature veteran lawyers with national pedigrees, including four former federal prosecutors and a special counsel to President George W. Bush.

In other words: expensive.

Peter Greenspun, a Fairfax attorney, says the going rate for Washington-area lawyers in those leagues can top $750 an hour. Early projections put the McDonnells' bill at roughly $1 million — "but if they're paying by the hour, full retail," Greenspun says, the total could wind up "double that."

Greenspun, who defended Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, convicted in 2003 in Virginia Beach, says there are plenty of variables: Only the teams' lead attorneys are likely to bill at the top tier, and the McDonnells may have negotiated for a flat or discounted rate, given the high-profile nature of the case.

Jason Miyares, a Virginia Beach attorney involved with the Restoration Fund, won't say how donations are faring with the trial now under way. That information doesn't have to be divulged until mid-October, when the fund's next quarterly tax report is due. On Friday, a search for its website, therestorationfund.com, turns up a notice that the site's domain name expired July 31 and hasn't been renewed.

On its most recent quarterly report — filed June 30 — the fund reported paying out $175,040, the majority to three law firms working on behalf of the ex-governor. Richard Gilliam, a coal magnate from the western part of the state, remained at the top of its donor list, with a $50,000 contribution. One person gave $15,000, and six — including Mitt Romney — gave $10,000 apiece.

A few others with local name recognition on the donor list, available online from the Virginia Public Access Project, include:

State Sen. Jeff McWaters ($5,000), Richmond businessman Jim Ukrop ($1,000), cosmetic facial surgeon Joseph Niamtu III ($1,000), James River Corp. founder Brenton S. Halsey ($500), former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security James Hopper ($500), MeadWestvaco lobbyist Ned W. Massee Sr. ($250) and former U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake ($200), who also was director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in McDonnell's administration.

Taxpayers come into play on the prosecution side, but a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office handling the McDonnell case says the federal government doesn't track the cost of individual cases.

As for Virginia's public money, $795,000 was spent last year to cover bills from two private law firms who supplied counsel to state employees involved in the case, including the governor.

Normally, that kind of advice would come from the office of the state attorney general, but Ken Cuccinelli, attorney general at the time, recused himself from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

Cuccinelli once owned stock in Star Scientific, the company the McDonnells are accused of promoting in exchange for bribes from its chief executive.

Mark Herring, the current attorney general, cut the private firms loose when he took office in January, saying their services were no longer needed.

But according to Herring spokesman Michael Kelly, Gov. Terry McAuliffe later rehired at least one of those law firms.

McAuliffe's office didn't return messages left last week asking about the rehiring of the firms or requesting their latest invoices.

According to an article published in May in The Washington Post, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the governor reversed Herring's decision to make sure state employees called to testify at the corruption trial have legal representation without racking up their own bills.

Joanne Kimberlin is reporting on the McDonnell trial for The Virginian-Pilot.

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