RICHMOND, Va. – Lawyers for the former chef for Virginia's governor are asking a court to subpoena Virginia's attorney general -- who is also the Republican nominee for governor -- to testify in the chef's pending criminal theft case.
A motion filed in Richmond Circuit Court on Friday seeks a judge's permission to issue subpoenas to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and one of his top lieutenants, Patrick Dorgan.
Cuccinelli's office was prosecuting the case against fired mansion chef Todd Schneider before stepping aside earlier this year, citing a conflict of interest. The court appointed Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Gregory Underwood to take over as special prosecutor.
The surprise subpoena request by defense attorney Steven D. Benjamin amplifies a politically explosive case.
The attorney wants to haul Cuccinelli into court for a July 8 hearing, less than four months before election day, and force him to answer questions about the conflicts of interest that compelled him to recuse his office.
"The testimony of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and SAAG (Special Assistant to the Attorney General) Patrick Dorgan is necessary to establish the timing, extent, impact, and effect of the political, personal, financial, and legal conflicts of interest of the Office of the Attorney General for the 13 months prior to (Schneider's) indictment and during which it represented both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Office of the Governor," Benjamin wrote in the motion.
Both Brian Gottstein, spokesman for the attorney general, and Christopher J. LaCivita, Cuccinelli's chief political strategist, said their organizations could not comment on the motion because of a gag order imposed on the case by Circuit Judge Margaret Spencer.
In a brief opposing the motion, Cuccinelli cited a Virginia State Bar rule that says only a commonwealth's attorney can request a subpoena for a lawyer to testify in a case involving a current or former client, and the request must be approved by a judge. State law also requires judicial approval to subpoena the attorney general, governor or lieutenant governor, he noted.
Cuccinelli also said that the motion fails to include specifics about the testimony being sought as required by both the state bar rule and the law. He added that "the nature of the testimony that the defendant assumes could be compelled from the Attorney General and his assistant is based only on speculative and unfounded assumptions and is wholly irrelevant to the defendant's motion to dismiss."
Schneider faces an October trial date on four felony counts alleging he took items from the state during his nearly two years as the mansion's chef. In defense motions, however, Schneider contends he was told to take the items in exchange for private catering services he performed, and he alleges that members of the governor's family also took state-owned items from the kitchen for their personal use.
Schneider's pending felony trial has ties to Virginia's most powerful elected officials and unfolding state and federal criminal investigations into operations of the Executive Mansion kitchen under Gov. Bob McDonnell's tenure and the relationship between the governor and First Lady Maureen McDonnell and Jonnie Williams, chief executive of troubled nutritional supplements maker Star Scientific Inc.
Williams has provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to McDonnell's family, which the governor has not disclosed on his required statements of economic interest. That includes a $15,000 check to McDonnell's daughter for her 2011 wedding and a $6,500 Rolex watch that the Washington Post reported Williams purchased at the first lady's suggestion and that she later gave to the governor.
McDonnell has defended his decision not to disclose the gifts, citing Virginia law that requires reporting only gifts given directly to officeholders, not to family members, or gifts to officeholders from immediate family and close friends. McDonnell has said Williams is a family friend.
Neither he nor any member of his family has been charged with any wrongdoing.
Williams and Star Scientific, the subject of a federal securities investigation and lawsuits by shareholders, have accounted for nearly $19,000 in gifts to Cuccinelli, including more than $6,000 worth of nutritional supplements, a $3,500 lake house vacation and a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving dinner. Cuccinelli has disclosed those gifts, though most it went unreported until April, when Cuccinelli amended his economic interest statements to add $13,674 worth of gifts that he said had slipped his mind earlier.