Lt. Gov. Fairfax Leaves His Law Firm but Not His Post

photoBy Edward Kimmel from Takoma Park, MD - People's Choice 0394, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76394009

There are jobs and then there are positions. Justin Fairfax has left his job as an attorney with the law firm Morrison & Foerster but is retaining his position as Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, at least for now.

Fairfax has been on leave from the firm since February, following multiple allegations of sexual assault that arose  as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were revealed to have worn blackface or Klan costumes during their younger years.

Northam and Herring basically conceded the allegations and apologized. Fairfax, on the other hand, has vigorously denied the assault allegations. All three have faced calls for their resignation but all remain in office.

Morrison & Foerster, which boasts 17 offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia, hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations against Fairfax and said that probe found no evidence of misconduct during the time he was employed by the firm.

The women allege that Fairfax assaulted them in 2000 and 2004. He has said that any sexual relations were consensual.

Republicans want hearings

The blackface and Klan costume uproars have largely died down but Republicans are calling for hearings on the allegations against Fairfax next week, as are the two women who say he assaulted them. Democrats in the General Assembly have largely resisted holding public hearings.

However, both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and five of its eleven House members said in February that Fairfax should step down.

“Lieutenant Governor Fairfax should resign. The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth. We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D).

“Sexual assault is never acceptable, and survivors of violence and harassment deserve to be heard. ​If these allegations concerning Lieutenant Governor Fairfax are accurate, then they are clearly disqualifying and he must resign,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D).

Democratic Representatives Don Beyer, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly have also called for him to step down.

“The allegations raised by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson raise two fundamental questions which Virginia’s leaders are called to answer: do we believe them, and, if so, do we believe that Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax should continue to serve?” they said in a statement issued in February.

In addition to the allegations, the representatives said Fairfax has shown bad judgment in reacting to the charges.

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations. He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.

“For these reasons we believe that Justin Fairfax cannot continue to serve as Lt. Governor of Virginia, and should step aside,” they concluded.

Part-time position

Fairfax, a native of Pittsburgh, is a former federal prosecutor and Senate staffer. Upon taking office in 2018, he became the second African-American elected to statewide office in Virginia, the first being Douglas Wilder, who served as governor from 1990 to 1994.

In Virginia, unlike most states, the Lieutenant Governor’s position is part-time. Fairfax had been an atorney at Venable but resigned that position in December 2017 and joined Morrison & Foerster in September 2018.

In August 2018, Fairfax became the first head of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association (DLGA), which has just been launched. In February 2019, Bethany Hall-Long (Delaware) and Cyrus Habib (Washington) were named interim co-chairs of the organization.

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About the Author

James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.