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Krauss Comments on WAMU on Legal Ethics Concerns in Alexandria Waterfront Plans

Commenting on the legal ethics of a controversial situation in which the City of Alexandria and developers who will benefit from a zoning change are represented by the same law firm, Professor Michael Krauss expressed his opinion that the situation presents no conflict of interest because the city and the developers have essentially the same interest — development of the waterfront.

"There is a congruence of interests right now, said Krauss. "That is to say the city believes that it is in its interests to do what the developer wants to do." 

Alexandria residents brought a lawsuit against City Hall to challenge the controversial waterfront plan, leading city leaders to hire the law firm McGuireWoods to represent the city. That same law firm now represents a number of developers who seek to benefit from the zoning change, which almost triples the amount of density at three sites and overturns a longstanding ban on hotels. Opponents of the waterfront development plan allege dual use of the law firm constitutes a conflict of interest.

Same Law Firm Represents Alexandria And Developers In Fight Over Waterfront, WAMU, October 24, 2013. By Michael Pope.

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Opponents of the waterfront development plan are crying foul, saying that the dual role represents a conflict of interest. 

"Alexandria City Attorney James Banks, a former partner at McGuireWoods declined to be interviewed for this story, although he issued a written statement saying he doesn't believe his relationship with the firm presents the appearance of a conflict.

"'He used to work there. He has no ongoing financial interest in that firm. If he had some ongoing interest, then it would be subject to review under conflict of interest laws,' says Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera.

"But former Alexandria assistant city attorney Barbara Beach wonders why the city hired a firm that regularly represents developers.

"'There's no question that McGuireWoods is a good firm. But why would the city hire a firm that comes before the city on behalf of clients asking for their clients to have permission to do things?' she says."

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