Questions surround RRHA counsel's law license - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

NBC12 INVESTIGATION: Questions surround RRHA counsel's law license

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

City leaders are defending the general counsel for the agency tasked with housing some of Richmond's poorest citizens, after NBC12 learned she has not been licensed to practice law in Virginia. We found out only just last week did Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority lawyer Michelle Waller apply to the Virginia State Bar and it may be because of an NBC12 investigation.

We have been looking into this story since last month when a tip came in Michelle Waller did not hold a Virginia State Bar card to practice law. It was only after we started asking questions that the bar got updated information and an application from Waller.

Michelle Waller's official title is General Counsel for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. She has been the organization's top lawyer since 2012 when CEO Adrienne Gooslby, who she knew before coming to Richmond, brought her on board.

We inquired with the Virginia State Bar, which licenses lawyers in the commonwealth. Even through early this week, the only Michelle Waller it had in the database is an attorney out of Southwest Virginia.

On Thursday, a membership official called with an update that she now can find RRHA's Michelle Waller in the system. The application was received just last week and Waller now has provisional approval to be corporate counsel. That application came a year and a half after she started work in Richmond.

Late Friday, A spokeswoman for RRHA sent us the following statement: "Based upon her extensive experience and expertise, she was hired by the Authority to coordinate its legal matters and translate those issues to senior management. She then assigns those matters to proper outside counsel who actually represents the Authority in any and all federal or state venues in Virginia. This has been the manner in which the Authority has conducted its legal affairs for the past 30 years."

At a press event Friday afternoon, that spokeswoman directed us back to the statement when we inquired further if Waller has given any type of legal advice during her time at RRHA.

"Title doesn't necessarily mean that someone is practicing law," explained NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin. "It certainly suggests that and I don't know why someone would hold the title of general counsel if they're not acting as an attorney."

Benjamin says we need more details on what's been going on since Waller came to RRHA.

"Someone needs to investigate whether in fact there has been any practice of law during that period and whether it was authorized because if not, there has been a serious lapse," he added.

Benjamin also believes there are broader implications here. If the practice was not authorized, there could be criminal charges and the State Corporation Commission could take action against RRHA as a whole.

We've also learned in just the last year while Waller has been there, the agency has paid $633,646 in legal fees. Those charges were paid at the same time Waller was also on the payroll.

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