Why Mayor Dwight Jones' Choice of Richmond Lawyer Isn’t So Surprising

Richard Cullen Sr. was the go-to for the McDonnells and other high-profile clients.

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What do Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, a Democrat, and former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, have in common?

When they learned of investigations into their activities, they called the same top-drawer lawyer -- Richard Cullen Sr., chairman of the powerhouse downtown law firm McGuireWoods.

As first reported by the Times-Dispatch, Jones got in touch with Cullen after a city auditor’s report said that the city’s public works director, Emmanuel Adediran, spent hours on city time dealing with the construction of a church in Chesterfield County, where he is a member and Jones is senior pastor.

The mayor docked Adediran’s vacation pay and asked the state police to look into the matter. Now that query includes the mayor himself. Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring said that the state police sought and won approval from a grand jury to investigate Jones.

When McDonnell was governor, he quickly called Cullen in February 2013 after state police officers interviewed his wife, Maureen, about gifts the McDonnells accepted from vitamin supplement salesman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

The Washington Post reported: “When she reported back to her husband, McDonnell’s response showed he understood the situation was serious. He did what any Republican politician of consequence would do in Virginia’s capital: He contacted Richard Cullen Sr.”

A former federal prosecutor and state attorney general, Cullen has a long record of taking high-profile cases. He worked for former U.S. Sen. Paul Trible during the Iran-Contra investigation. He also represented former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, a former House majority whip, in a long investigation of connections to lobbyists.

In the McDonnell matter, Cullen got busy helping the governor start to build a legal defense team. In September 2014, McDonnell and his wife were convicted of illegally accepting more than $177,000 worth of gifts from Williams. They were sentenced to prison terms and have appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the former governor’s case within a few months.

In the case of Jones, the former head of the Virginia Democratic Party, Cullen launched a six-week investigation of City Hall. He told Style Weekly that "We had taked to people who might have shed some light."

Cullen added that "I'm very confident that there hasn't been a crime committed." He said that Adedrian may not have violated city policy because he is a senior staff member not bound by rules covering most city employees.

About 10 percent of Jones’ top city staff members belong to First Baptist Church of South Richmond, where he is senior pastor.

Tammy Hawley, Jones’ press secretary, could be reached for comment by press time.

“There may be some similarities with McDonnell the more we learn about the Jones case,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “The key question is if public resources were redirected in ways that didn’t serve the public interest,” he says.

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