OPINION: 'When Gil Trenum Was Called To Serve His Country, Mark Herring Was Missing in Action'
Submitted By Willie Deutsch, Coles District School Board member
This week the Richmond Times Dispatch summed up Mark Herring’s term as Attorney General by saying “While Herring has refrained from defending the state, he has used his office for political activism.”
On the Prince William County School Board, we have seen what it looks like to have an elected official more interested in partisan activism than the duties of the office. We have also seen the impact of Attorney General Mark Herring putting partisanship ahead of his duties.
One of the critical duties of an attorney is to provide advice to their client. The Attorney General does this through opinions to elected officials and state agencies about the meaning of the law. To be useful, these opinions need to be prompt and above partisanship.
When Brentsville District School Board member Gil Trenum was preparing to deploy last year, the response we received from Attorney General Mark Herring was neither prompt or above partisanship. When Gil Trenum was preparing to deploy, Prince William County residents needed their Attorney General. Unfortunately, Mark Herring was missing in action.
When Mr. Trenum was called into service last year, our county needed one thing: a smooth transition so the citizens of Brentsville could be represented during the tumultuous chairmanship of Ryan Sawyers. Before announcing his deployment, Gil Trenum sought legal advice from the nonpartisan Virginia Division of Legislative Services that drafts laws for all members of the General Assembly. You can browse around these guys and understand simplified version of the law which can help you find the right understanding. When you check with them you will understand that the advice given was frustrating to Chairman Ryan Sawyers as it didn’t enable him to use the Democrat majority on the school board to replace Mr. Trenum with a liberal member.
Sawyers requested an informal opinion through Democrat Senator Scott Surovell from the Attorney General’s office on the matter in July of 2016. When releasing the opinion, Sen. Surovell stated, “The opinion was drafted by career staff at the Attorney General's Office. It is not signed by the Attorney General because it is not an official opinion - those can take many more months of review, and I wanted to get something quickly.”
It took a month to receive an opinion that aligned with Chairman Sawyers’ partisan agenda for Mr. Trenum’s vacant seat on the Board. The Attorney General couldn’t be bothered to provide his opinion within that timeframe.
To bring some clarity to the situation, Senator Richard Stuart, who represents the Brentsville District, requested a formal Attorney General opinion on August 29. Mark Herring didn’t release his official opinion until December 9. When citizens need an opinion from their lawyer, it can take over three months to get it from Mark Herring.
Would you keep a lawyer that didn’t think you mattered enough to respond for three months? Would you keep an Attorney General that doesn’t value the sacrifice our veterans make when they are called to active duty?
Ironically, there are other situations in which Mark Herring has conveniently taken very little time to release a formal opinion. Those are times when he can score political points. On August 12 of this year, the despicable events in Charlottesville took place. In less than two weeks, Mark Herring released an opinion allowing local monuments to be torn down.
When politics called, Mark Herring could quickly release a formal Attorney General opinion. When a veteran in Prince William County needed help, Mark Herring was missing in action. When it comes to Mark Herring, politics comes first at the expense of faithfully representing our citizens.
If you are as sick as I am of elected officials putting partisan politics over doing their job, join me in bringing change to the Attorney General’s office on November 7.
John Adams is challenging Mark Herring to bring professionalism back to the Attorney General’s office. He understands that a lawyer’s first duty is to his clients. An Attorney General’s clients are the citizens of Virginia. When I shared how long it took to get an opinion from Mark Herring when we needed it, John Adams shared my frustration. As an attorney, John Adams knows his clients would fire him if he took as long to respond as Mark Herring does. He agrees Virginians need an Attorney General who won’t politicize something as basic as who gets a prompt response.
Mark Herring first held elected office nearly 20 years ago, and in my opinion has lost sight of why Virginians elected him to public office. If we want an experienced lawyer who will take politics out of the Attorney General’s office, then when we go to the polls on November 7, let’s elect someone who has never run for office before, John Adams.
The opinion expressed here solely represents that of the author. Bristow Beat nor its staff or sponsors have taken a stance on the issue, nor do we necessarily agree with the characterization the public officials named in the article.