Controversial ex-city councilman Harrison, exposed for payoff in sexual assault case joins firm with lots of city business

Ex-Virginia Beach City Councilman William W. (Billy) Harrison Jr. has quit as managing partner in Norfolk silk-stocking law firm Willcox & Savage's Virginia Beach office  to take a position with the firm of Williams, Mullen, Clark & Dobbins in Virginia Beach effective Aug. 1.


The announcement at both firms was via email.  The email to Williams, Mullen, staff  was sent Sunday afternoon. His resignation at Willcox & Savage was made 'a week or so ago.' 

Harrison could not be reached for comment.  His office phone at Willcox & Savage Monday was answered:  "Hi, this is Bill Harrison.  You've reached my voice mail for Virginia Beach City Council. I will be on vacation until July 15th."  

Dual loyalties?

One lawyer noted Monday:  "Isn't it ironic that while on City Council Harrison, supposedly representing the best interests of the citizens was the chief negotiator against the law firm representing the developers of the controversial 31st St. public-private hotel project - Williams Mullen?  Yet as soon as he is off council, he jumps right in that law firm?"

(But in official city emails obtained in the 31st St. project, it was revealed that from promises Harrison made to developers, it was difficult to determine whose interests he was representing.  An overwhelming vote by citizens in a referendum rejected the project, but with Harrison's help, the citizens' wishes were ignored.) 

The recording referred callers to his secretary, Susan Walbridge, for further assistance.  Ms. Walbridge's phone went unanswered Monday afternoon.  Harrison's two terms on council ended July 1.  Ms. Walbridge is also leaving Willcox & Savage with Harrison.

No one in either firm would comment as to whether Harrison had been pressured to leave Willcox & Savage and whether he would become a partner in Williams, Mullen or simply be an associate.  One said, "He announced he was leaving the firm."  Asked if he was forced out, the source reiterated his previous statement.  Another said, "I'm not going to talk about Mr. Harrison."  One lawyer told VNS, "I don't think you'll see a press release on this."

In an exclusive report April 26, Virginia News Source revealed that Harrison had paid a former employee $28,000 to settle a sexual assault claim.

The assault occurred the night of March 12, 1990 when Harrison cornered her in the linen room of the Econ Lodge Motel at 2968 Shore Drive.  Harrison had told the woman, a petit, natural blond beauty that he owned the hotel and that his employees did anything he told them to. 

Harrison will use taxpayer-financed council experience for new law firm

The email to the staff of Williams, Mullen said Harrison's 2-term council experience gives him "a unique perspective of the planning for public-private partnerships for his clients."

Not spelling out his responsibilities @ the new firm, the email simply said, he will join the firm's real estate section.

Harrison left an impressive professional biography @ Willcox & Savage.

The 5-foot-2 104-pound woman escaped by slugging Harrison between the eyes with her fist and running away. There were marks on her neck and her bathing suit top was ripped.

Another employee confirmed that her clothing was torn and her neck bruised and that Harrison appeared intoxicated that night.

Following the incident, the woman had difficulty finding a lawyer to take her case against Harrison until she contacted Linda Laibstain of Hofheimer Nusbaum, P.C.  Laibstain agreed to take the case, but with limitations:  She would not bring legal action against Harrison, but did agree to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. 

She was paid, the woman said, $9,000 of the $28,000 settlement she negotiated.

Harrison's new firm no stranger to taxpayer's largesse

Williams Mullen, some sources estimate, has received $1M or more in outside legal fees from representing the City of Virginia Beach in the last 2 fiscal years.

It is one of the most frequently hired firms to represent the city's legal interests, drawing vast income despite the city's staff of about 2-dozen lawyers.

In fact City Atty. Les Lilley was forced out of a legal case and was ordered by former council members Harrison, Linwood Branch, Vice Mayor Will Sessoms, and Mayor Meyera Oberndorf to hire Donald Clark of Williams Mullen to represent the city. 

The incident had remained secret until revealed by Virginia News Source (VNS) because of a confidentiality agreement the victim was required to sign.  VNS  could not obtain the confidentiality agreement.

The victim said her lawyer, Linda  Laibstain, "told me at settlement, if I ever told anyone about this, Billy would sue me and she would help him." [emphasis added]  The victim refused to allow VNS to see a copy of the agreement.  VNS did obtain a letter the victim said Laibstain wrote and required her to sign before Laibstain would represent her in the case. (See documents & story: Lawyer threatened to help Harrison sue victim).  VNS also obtained a letter Laibstain wrote Harrison's lawyer detailing terms of the settlement and payment.  Neither Laibstain nor Harrison would comment on the case.

A local lawyer has met with the woman for free to determine if any additional criminal or civil charges can be brought against Harrison and whether he and/or Laibstain can be brought before the bar on charges.  He could not be reached for comment Monday.  (See story:  Woman will ask Bar Association to investigate).

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