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EVMS’ Northam's Yearbook Investigation Bills: $140,000 And Counting

Timeline of Internal investigation into Northam
McGuireWoods has so far only billed EVMS for yearbook-related investigative costs accrued in February. The firm presented its findings last week.

Last week, Eastern Virginia Medical School estimated its investigation into a racist photo on Governor Ralph Northam's yearbook page would cost $300,000.

Invoices obtained by WCVE on Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request shed more light on those and other consulting fees the school has paid in the wake of the scandal, with the current bills totalling over $140,000.

Richmond-based law firm McGuireWoods, which conducted an investigation into the photo, has so far only billed the school for $76,141 worth of work done in February. The invoices show that the firm's five lead investigators, including former state Attorney General Richard Cullen, billed their time at $575 an hour. 

Washington, D.C.-based Indian Lane LLC also charged EVMS for $64,562 for “professional consulting services” and travel from February through May. The firm is run by Douglas Sosnik, a Democratic political advisor who previously served as former President Bill Clinton’s political affairs director.

The scandal got renewed attention last week when McGuireWoods presented the findings of an investigation that began on February 4--just three days after a right-wing blog surfaced a photo on Northam’s yearbook page showing a person in blackface and another in a KKK robe.

Investigators ultimately said they couldn’t verify Northam’s claim that he does not appear in the photo and that he never chose it to appear on his page. They found no evidence of other mistakes in the 1984 yearbook but did find a smattering of other photos over several decades showing blackface and other racist and misogynistic costumes.

The investigation did reveal that EVMS has known about the photo since at least 2013. Staff presented the photo to the school’s former and current president, both of whom declined to take action.

Richard Homan, the current president, said at last week’s press conference that he had no regrets about that decision.

"We are a public institution; we receive public funds," Homan said. "I decided we did not want to enter any opportunity to have that photo enter the press or provide a political process that we're dealing with today, frankly."

Homan made a $10,000 donation to Northam’s inaugural committee on Christmas Eve in 2017. His predecessor, Harry Lester, has been a reliable Northam donor, contributing $19,500 toward the governor’s 2017 election, $5,000 apiece for Northam’s senate and lieutenant governor runs, and another $5,000 for the governor’s PAC in 2018.

Neither EVMS or McGuireWoods immediately responded to requests for comment.

This story has been updated to reflect an earlier cost estimate provided by EVMS last week.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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