The Metropolitan Airports Authority Board has come under fire in the past year for transparency and ethical issues. Now, the total cost of the legal fees spent defending one of its members is being released.
The agency managing the construction of the Silver Line rail project spent more than $1 million in legal fees in two lawsuits defending one of its board members in a battle with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
A confidential Metropolitan Airports Authority board memo obtained by WAMU 88.5 details $1.5 million in legal fees spent defending Dennis Martire, a board member and labor union official who agreed to resign from the MWAA board in September.
The McDonnell administration in June tried to oust Martire from the board. He sued to keep his seat, and the airports authority agreed to reimburse his legal expenses. His subsequent resignation was part of his settlement of the case. He was reimbursed $855,000, according to the memo.
Martire noted Monday he was entitled to legal assistance under MWAA policy.
“We have an indemnification policy that every board member has the right to due process and every board member has the right to face their accusers if you are accused of anything,” said Martire, who drew intense criticism after an federal inspector general's report found he traveled to five conferences costing $38,000 in travel expenses in his capacity as an MWAA board member.
Martire, for his part, believes he was targeted for political reasons, namely, that the McDonnell administration wanted greater control of the MWAA board.
"The governor was removing me for booking a plane ticket two weeks before a trip, and we spent $1.5 million dollars of MWAA money to defend that case. It's ludicrous," Martire said. "There is a movement afoot to make it an all-Virginia board. There is a movement afoot to make it a Republican-dominated board."
The confidential memo says the airports authority also spent $360,000 to defend itself and one of its top officials, and nearly $200,000 was spent defending three other board members — Rusty Conner, Todd Stottlemyer, and former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis — who were subpoenaed during the litigation.
MWAA chief counsel Phil Sunderland did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, a critic of the airports authority, also could not be reached for comment.
Update, 6 p.m. Tuesday: MWAA released a statement Tuesday, confirming Martire's assertion that he was entitled to legal fees according to the organization's bylaws. The $855,000 figure was set by a "neutral third party," based on a review of the invoices issued by Martire's law firm.