Legal Ethics

Assistant county attorney fired after winning a city council seat


A Fairfax County, Virginia, assistant county attorney says she approached her boss earlier this year—both in person and in writing—about running for Fairfax City Council and that he gave her the OK. He fired her when she won the election, the Washington Post reports.

Nancy Fry Loftus had been a staff lawyer for County Attorney David Bobzien for 17 years. She was dismissed May 29, a few weeks after winning election to the part-time city council job, which pays $4,500 a year. Her win was a significant net loss financially, as her county salary was about $85,000.

(In Virginia, cities and counties are separate entities. Fairfax City is an enclave of Fairfax County.)

Loftus says that when she told Bobzien in February that she wanted to run for office he replied: “Great, good for you.” Loftus said he suggested she inform the deputy county attorney for personnel, who told her, “Not only can you run, we can’t prohibit you from running.”

Loftus hired a lawyer, Chap Petersen, a member of the Virginia senate and formerly a Fairfax City Council member, who says her dismissal violated Virginia statute and the First Amendment. In April, shortly before the election, Bobzien had sent Loftus a memo telling her that he had spoken to the state bar’s ethics counsel, who told him that her political job would create a conflict of interest for his entire office and that she would be terminated if she won.

“I apologize if you were misled by the apparent ambiguity,” Bobzien later wrote.

Petersen says the ethics opinions Bobzien cites pertain to lawyers working in law firms that lobby a governing body.

Loftus was sworn in last week and will formally take her seat at Tuesday evening’s council session.

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